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Strictly speaking, a Subaltern is any officer below Field Officer rank - which starts at Major (unless you are the Adjutant).

However, since we Brits are happy to encourage pompous Junior Officers to think excessively highly of themselves despite their general ignorance of strict military terminology, the word Subaltern is commonly used to refer only to those at the bottom of the commissioned-officer food-chain, meaning the Second Lieutenant (or one-pip-wonder) and the Lieutenant.

They range in quality from utterly clueless (particularly for non-grads) to very experienced, capable soldiers. Grads don't really have time for that bit and carry 'utterly clueless' with them until well into their Captaincy.

Well, at least that's what Team Non-Grad would have you believe, to make up for the enormous chips they all carry around with them.

By the way, Lieutenant is, despite being a French word (meaning something along the lines of 'the bloke who watches the fort while the real boss is away'), pronounced LEFF-tenant. Anyone pronouncing it loo-TENANT is either a) French b) a Septic or c) a mong.

Theft of the term

The term was pinched by a bunch of post-colonialist poseurs to refer to junior outsider components of the colonial power structure, as in "Can the Subaltern speak?", an incomprehensible pile of shite written by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

ukFlag.jpg   British Army rank structure   36px-Flag_of_the_British_Army.svg.png
Commissioned Officer ranks
Second LieutenantLieutenantCaptainMajorLieutenant ColonelColonel
BrigadierMajor GeneralLieutenant GeneralGeneralField Marshal
Junior & Non-Commissioned ranks
PrivateLance CorporalCorporal
SergeantStaff SergeantWarrant Officer Class 2Warrant Officer Class 1
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