AskDefine | Define supernumerary

Dictionary Definition

supernumerary adj : more than is needed, desired, or required; "trying to lose excess weight"; "found some extra change lying on the dresser"; "yet another book on heraldry might be thought redundant"; "skills made redundant by technological advance"; "sleeping in the spare room"; "supernumerary ornamentation"; "it was supererogatory of her to gloat"; "delete superfluous (or unnecessary) words"; "extra ribs as well as other supernumerary internal parts"; "surplus cheese distributed to the needy" [syn: excess, extra, redundant, spare, supererogatory, superfluous, surplus] n : a minor actor in crowd scenes [syn: spear carrier, extra]

User Contributed Dictionary



From the Late Latin supernumarius “excessively high in number” from super “above; beyond” + numerum accusative of numerum “number”


  1. A civil designation for somebody who works in a group, association or public office, without forming part of the regular staff; those distinguished from numerary. (For example, supernumerary judges are those who help the regular judges when there is a surplus amount of work.)
  2. An extra or walk-on in a film or play; spear-carrier.


  1. extra; beyond the standard or prescribed amount
  2. greater in number than
  3. beyond what is necessary


  • French: surnuméraire
  • Romanian: supranumerar

Extensive Definition

Supernumerary is an additional member of an organization. A supernumerary is also non-regular member of a staff, a member of the staff or an employee who works in a public office who is not part of the manpower complement. Thus, a supernumerary could be an extra member or a temporary employee in addition to the permanent staff or permanent members of a society.
There are supernumerary actors, knights, ladies, professors, police, ministers, judges, military personnel, and writers.
This use of the terms supernumerary and its counterpart, numerary, is in common use in Spanish and Latin American academy and government, and it is now also used in countries all over the world, like France, the US, England, Italy, etc.
In the Roman army, supernumerarii were either public officers who attended on several of the Roman magistrates or a kind of soldier who served to fill the places of those who were killed or disabled by their wounds, or otherwise bring up the ranks to strength.
Supernumerary is distinguished from numerary which is a civil designation for persons who are incorporated in a fixed or permanent way to a society or group, meaning a regular member of the working staff; permanent staff or member.
The term usually refers then to a type of employment which has a temporary contract.

Types of supernumeraries

There are many types of supernumeraries, depending on the society where they belong:
  • supernumerary professors
  • supernumerary accountants,
  • supernumerary judges or magistrates. See Federal Court (Canada).
  • supernumerary members of a Council of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
  • supernumerary minister
  • supernumerary members of the Catholic prelature Opus Dei. Having the vocation to become a saint by sanctifying their ordinary circumstances and work, they are generally married men or women who live in their own homes and who perform their normal jobs with a strong sense of commitment. They help in the apostolic tasks of the prelature as their circumstances permit. These members are not fully available to work on the apostolic and formational tasks of the prelature.
  • supernumerary ministers, e.g. in British Methodist churches, these are ministers who have retired and are local preachers.
  • supernumerary Knights and Ladies. These are members of the British Royal Family and foreign monarchs, who are extra members of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the world's oldest national order of knighthood.
  • supernumerary actors. The term's original use, from the Latin supernumerarius, meant someone paid to appear on stage in crowd scenes or in the case of opera as non-singing small parts. Supernumeraries are usually amateur character artists who train under professional direction to create a believable scene.
  • supernumerary watch-standers in military. These are designated substitutes for any of a group of scheduled watch-standers who might be absent due to various causes such as illness or leave.

Example of supernumeraries

  • Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler who provided the most vivid and detailed account of Magellan's circumnavigational voyage, was independently wealthy but enlisted on the voyage as a lowly sobrasaliente or supernumerary.
  • Thomas Paine, whose work Common Sense, became the most widely read work in the 18th century America, and later led to the Declaration of Independence. He worked as a supernumerary officer in 1761.
  • Henri d'Orléans, duc d'Aumale - The act of exception passed in 1883 deprived all members of families that had reigned in France of their military positions; consequently the duc d'Aumale was placed on the unemployed supernumerary list.
  • Aubrey Herbert, M.P., (1880- September 26, 1923) was a British diplomat, traveller and intelligence officer, associated with Albanian independence - served in a supernumerary position for the Irish Guards.
  • A. C. Grayling MA, DPhil (Oxon) FRSA (born 3 April 1949) is a British philosopher and author. He is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London and a supernumerary fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford.
  • Conway Walter Heath Pulford, Air Vice Marshal - supernumerary, HQ Coastal Area in 1925 August 17
  • Constantin Floros (Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Φλόρος) is a Greek musicologist. In 1967 he became supernumerary professor, in 1972 professor of musicology and in 1995 professor emeritus at the University of Hamburg.
  • Nick Middleton is a physical geographer and supernumerary fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. He specialises in desertification.
  • Moshe Dayan, Israeli general and defense minister, was a uniformed member of the British Supernumerary Police during the Emergency of 1936-1938.
  • Jay Zeamer, Jr., awarded the Medal of Honor in 1943, was a supernumerary of the 43rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), a group that flew the four-engined B-17 Flying Fortress. *Guillermo Meneses, winner of the National Prize for Literature was supernumerary writer of the Ministry of Outer Relations and at that time was named first secretary of the Embassy of Venezuela in Brussels (1953-1957) and soon with the same position in the Embassy of Venezuela in Paris (1957-1959).
  • Lee Kuan Yew is presently supernumerary minister, appointed as Minister Mentor for the cabinet ministers of Singapore.
  • Ruth Kelly, British Secretary of State for Transport, is a supernumerary member of the Opus Dei prelature. She belongs to the Labour Party, a centre-left political grouping.
  • Charles, Prince of Wales with his siblings Anne, Princess Royal, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Prince Andrew, Duke of York, who are supernumerary members of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.


supernumerary in Polish: Supernumerariusz
supernumerary in Dutch: Surnummerair
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