The word expletive has more than one meaning. Most people are familiar with its definition as profanity and use as a noun. However, few people know its more acceptable grammar use as an adjective. Regardless of whether used as a noun or adjective, expletives should not be used in academic writing. The sentences below show why.
Sentence: THERE ARE several theories relevant to the study.
Edited Sentence: Several theories ARE relevant to the study.
In the first sentence, the word “there” is an expletive. As adjectives, expletives should describe nouns or pronouns. However, as used in this sentence, the expletive functions as an empty word because the word “there” does not describe another word in the sentence.
Therefore, the expletive is deleted in the edited sentence so that the sentence begins with a true adjective (“several”) that describes the noun “theories.”
Often, writers use expletives to start sentences (“there is/are” or “it is”). When beginning sentences with these words, make sure they describe a noun or pronoun that follows them. If the word isn’t used descriptively, it is an empty use of an adjective, or what we call an expletive, and you should revise the sentence to get rid of it.
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