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When Can You Use an Expletive?

Today’s Topic: Do You Recognize Expletives?

Sentence: IT IS imperative to gather sufficient data from both samples for this project.

Edited Sentences: THE RESEARCHER must gather sufficient data from both samples for this project.


GATHERING sufficient data from both samples for this project is imperative.


SUFFICIENT DATA must be gathered from both samples for this project.

Explanation: As you strive for conciseness in your writing, remember the definition of “concise” when writing for an academic audience: “brief in form but comprehensive in scope.” Several writing conventions either facilitate or hinder concise writing. The use of expletives is one of them. An expletive is an empty word (or placeholder) that fills the position of another word, phrase or clause; typically, “it” and “there” serve as expletives.

In the sample sentence above, “it” is the expletive. We call expletives “empty” phrases because they don’t communicate anything. “It” is a pronoun; however, in this sentence, it is not used as a pronoun because it’s not replacing a noun.

In most sentences, the subject comes before the verb; when you invert a sentence so that the subject comes after the verb, an expletive is typically used to begin the sentence. Expletive constructions are sometimes preferred for emphasis, but avoiding excessive or unnecessary expletives strengthens sentences and allows the true subject to be highlighted.

To correct the expletive (or empty phrase), be sure to place a subject before the verb. Three ways are provided in the edited sentence.

When editing your academic documents, be sure to revise any sentences that begin with expletives.

Until next week, Happy Writing!!!

Dr. V Writing Coach-Editor-Speaker Author of I'm Not a Writer...I am Just in Graduate School (order your copy at

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