For other uses, see Supernumerary (disambiguation).

Supernumerary is an adjective which means "exceeding the usual number". When used as a noun, "supernumerary" means a temporary employee, additional society member, or extra manpower,[1][2] usually in a function which has a temporary contract. Its counterpart, "numerary", 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.[3]

The terms supernumerary and "numerary" have long been commonly used in the Spanish and Latin American academy and government; they are now also used in countries all over the world, including France, Great Britain, Italy, and the US.[citation needed] For example, in the Roman army, supernumerarii were either public officers attendant to several of the Roman magistrates or a kind of soldier who filled the places of those killed or disabled by their wounds, or otherwise brought up the ranks to strength.[citation needed]

The supernumerary role is commonplace in numerous fields. For example, there are supernumerary actors, judges, knights, ladies, military personnel, ministers, police officers, professors, and writers.

Types of supernumeraries

There are many types of supernumeraries, depending on the society where they belong:

Arts and entertainment

  • 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.

Knights and ladies


  • supernumerary watch-standers 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.


  • supernumerary accountants.[4]
  • supernumerary members of a Council of the Royal Academy of Engineering.[5]
  • supernumerary judges or magistrates. These are judges who have retired from their full-time position on a court, but continue to work on a part-time basis. Generally, when a judge becomes supernumerary a vacancy is created, and the appropriate person or body may subsequently make a new appointment to that Court.
  • Student nurses are classed as supernumerary, as they are only present on placement to shadow their mentor or other staff member, and be supervised when carrying out any clinical practice and shouldn't be classed as making up the numbers in staffing.
  • supernumerary professors, typically referred to as adjunct faculty.

Religious organizations

  • 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.

Science and transportation

  • In aeronautical context, a flight deck may contain a supernumerary seat. This is a place for someone who hasn't got anything to do with the take off, flying, or landing of the aircraft. Just a place for an extra body to observe.
  • In maritime context, the supernumeraries were the complement of persons attached to a voyage but having no shipboard responsibilities; for example, the scientists attached to a voyage of scientific exploration, or the merchant during a trade voyage.

Examples of supernumeraries

File:01 Thomas Paine.JPG
Thomas Paine, whose writings led to the Declaration of Independence, was a supernumerary officer of the army.

In popular culture


External links