verb (used with object), un·der·stud·ied, un·der·stud·y·ing.

to learn (a role) in order to replace the regular actor or actress when necessary.
to act as understudy to (an actor or actress): to understudy the lead.

verb (used without object), un·der·stud·ied, un·der·stud·y·ing.

to act or work as an understudy.

noun, plural un·der·stud·ies.

a performer who learns the role of another in order to serve as a replacement if necessary.

Origin of understudy

First recorded in 1870–75; under- + study
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for understudy

Contemporary Examples of understudy

  • Some are now calling DSK's faux pas “a kiss of death” for Aubry as it makes her seem like no more than his understudy.

    The Daily Beast logo
    DSK: the Fallout Continues

    Tracy McNicoll

    September 20, 2011

  • Since then the younger son, James, has stepped forward to understudy.

    The Daily Beast logo
    News Corp. After Rupert

    Chris Thompson

    July 21, 2011

  • From Katie Holmes to Anne Hathaway, see our picks for her understudy.

  • He booked his first audition for understudy in the Tony-award-winning Thoroughly Modern Millie.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Glee's New Villain

    Itay Hod

    September 20, 2010

Historical Examples of understudy

  • But an understudy was to play her part that night and she had no excuse.

    The Christian

    Hall Caine

  • And the maid will leave us before the month is over and I shall be her understudy.

    The Gorgeous Girl

    Nalbro Bartley

  • She's an understudy, and her principal might fall ill--or something.


    Louis Joseph Vance

  • Then he turned, roaring: 'Vere is Miss Lawrence's understudy?

    Despair's Last Journey

    David Christie Murray

  • Through the two acts which followed, the understudy kept it up.

    The Lowest Rung

    Mary Cholmondeley

British Dictionary definitions for understudy


verb -studies, -studying or -studied

(tr) to study (a role or part) so as to be able to replace the usual actor or actress if necessary
to act as understudy to (an actor or actress)

noun plural -studies

an actor or actress who studies a part so as to be able to replace the usual actor or actress if necessary
anyone who is trained to take the place of another in case of need
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for understudy

also under-study, 1852, in the theatrical sense, from under + study (v.). The noun is attested from 1848, translating Italian supplimento.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper