Tag Archives: expletives

Expletive Deleted: On Grammatical Fluff

Eradicating expletives from your writing style is one of the simplest ways to improve and strengthen your writing. Doing so not only helps your readers, but also clarifies and focuses your thoughts.

Now, I don’t mean the four-letter words. While “expletive” usually refers to the coarser type of language, it also refers to the words here, there, and it. When used as expletives, these indefinite pronouns take the place of a word or phrase that is never actually stated and that are followed by a form of the verb “to be.”

How do writers commonly use these expletives? Let’s see.

It was likely that through Godfrey’s secret experiments, the lab rat Aylsworth had grown as intelligent as a human – and just as devious. There was no reason for Godfrey to think that Aylsworth meant him any harm, but whenever Dr. Sedgequick entered the lab, the rat’s eyes grew dark and cunning, and he’d rub his paws together as if plotting.

Here is the crux of it, Godfrey thought – Aylsworth resents Sedgequick for grafting those bat wings onto him.

In the above sentences, it, there, and here stand in for subjects. While of course all English speakers understand what you mean when you use these words in the above way, their use just weakens a sentence. In fact, the word expletive actually derives from the Latin for “to fill.” And they are just that – fillers! Why not state the subject? Your writing only becomes clearer and more muscular when you do so.

Furthermore, if a reader is not a native English speaker, their use can cause comprehension problems, and if you expect your work to be translated, these sentences will have to be rewritten anyway. So now is a good time to get out of the habit of using this grammatical fluff!

Let’s see those three sentences I used above with the expletives deleted and the sentences rewritten.

Godfrey suspected that his secret experiments had resulted in the lab rat Aylsworth’s growing as intelligent as a human – and just as devious. Though he had no reason to think that the rat mean him any harm, whenever Dr. Sedgequick entered the lab, Aylsworth’s eyes grew dark and cunning, and he’d rub his paws together as if plotting.

Aylsworth resents Sedgequick for grafting those bat wings onto him, Godfrey thought.

Once you get into the habit of noticing expletives in your writing, you’ll see them everywhere – and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to search, destroy, and blast them away.