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Profanity & Grammar: Know What an Expletive is in Writing!

This past weekend, I conducted an academic writing workshop for a group of incoming doctoral students enrolled in universities across Florida. Part of the workshop focused on ways to achieve conciseness.


As is often the case in these workshops, I asked participants if they had heard of expletives; several attendees responded, "It's a curse word." Yes, it is, but it is also a grammar term with a meaning and application that is extremely important for eliminating wordiness from writing.


The example sentence presented in the workshop led to a 20 minute review of parts of speech to illustrate the problem with the expletive. Though I can't review the entire exchange, I can share the sentence with its expletive:


Example Sentence: It should be noted that qualitative research should be used rather than quantitative research to investigate this question.


In a grammar context, an expletive is a placeholder used when a writer inverts the sentence order so that the verb comes before the subject. The placeholder doesn't add meaning to the sentence, and the inverted sentence order creates a passive voice sentence.


Expletives constructions include "it is" and "there are/there is" with the pronouns "it" and "there" being the expletives. Since expletives are placeholders, they can be deleted without creating any loss of meaning in the sentence, as demonstrated in the sentence below:


Edited Sentence: Qualitative research should be used rather than quantitative research to investigate this question.


Notice that the expletive construction in the example sentence seemed to express an important thought. However, the emptiness of the words becomes evident when the placeholder is removed.


Writers must be diligent to eliminate empty phrases, whether expletives or other forms, from documents.



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