Definition of supernumerary in English:



  • 1Present in excess of the normal or requisite number, in particular.

    1. 1.1 (of a person) not belonging to a regular staff but engaged for extra work.
      • ‘At seventeen he set out, working his way on a cargo ship as a supernumerary - doing the odd jobs.’
      • ‘As the number of supernumerary troops in the garrisons grew, many were put to work on the agricultural colonies, becoming servants and construction laborers, or pressed into active military service.’
      • ‘Returning to Cardiff, he became a supernumerary registrar to the medical school before leaving to become a general practitioner in the Swansea Valley.’
      • ‘But the film also shows that society does not see him as such: it sees only an FOB, a supernumerary worker in a cheap laundromat, a potential Communist agitator.’
      • ‘Consider, for example, the mid-fifteenth century case of Duan Gang, a supernumerary soldier from a guard unit attached to an imperial prince who resided in Luzhou, Shanxi Province.’
      • ‘Many of these men were drawn from among the ranks of principal and supernumerary soldiers serving in guard units of the Northern Metropolitan Area, a pool of men with a modicum of military training and ready access to the weapons of the day.’
    2. 1.2 Not wanted or needed; redundant.
      ‘books were obviously supernumerary, and he began jettisoning them’
      unnecessary, not required, inessential, unessential, needless, unneeded, uncalled for, dispensable, disposable, expendable, unwanted, useless
      View synonyms
    3. 1.3Zoology Botany Denoting a structure or organ occurring in addition to the normal ones.
      ‘a pair of supernumerary teats’
      • ‘The most common variation of the lungs is the presence of supernumerary fissures.’
      • ‘Complete doubling of the uterine tubes may occur in association with supernumerary ovaries.’
      • ‘Most frequently seen are supernumerary nipples anywhere along the primitive milk line, though true accessory mammary glands are most frequently located in the axilla (polymastia).’
      • ‘Various cases of supernumerary testicles have been reported during operations or in physical examination (without histological proof, however).’
      • ‘It's a disorder in which supernumerary bones form.’
    4. 1.4 (of an actor) appearing on stage but not speaking.


  • A supernumerary person or thing.

    • ‘Others, called supernumeraries, would live in the community within their families.’
    • ‘A few words with my boss resulted in him being drafted as a supernumerary which became permanent eventually.’
    • ‘Seven years ago central government promised a solution, but the supernumeraries still use chairs, desks and telephones and they are costing close to a billion rands a year.’
    • ‘The thousands of supernumeraries in the Eastern Cape who cost the province R1 billion a year are not facing retrenchment in the immediate future.’
    • ‘Her mainmast is 29 metres high, and she has a permanent crew of 16, assisted by 36 voyage crew and various supernumeraries.’
    • ‘I was pleased to hear that staff expenditure had been cut but was not happy to hear that the issue of supernumeraries was not mentioned.’
    • ‘They were there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in his private psychodrama.’
    • ‘In order to ensure safety, the staff watch leaders supplemented the youth crew and the other staff assisted when requested, but only as supernumeraries under direction from the youth crew.’
    • ‘Although public indignation at the burgeoning Civil List led to some drastic pruning, the Royal supernumeraries continued to live high on the hog.’
    • ‘‘The supernumeraries are a problem mainly at provincial level, but the ghost workers are all over,’ he said.’
    • ‘The rest of the cast are really supernumeraries; other ranks, captured German soldiers, etc although, again, they are well played and convincing in what they are called upon to do.’


Early 17th century: from late Latin supernumerarius (soldier) added to a legion after it is complete from Latin super numerum beyond the number.