An expletive is a short phrase (often as short as a single word) that is placed neatly inside an otherwise normal sentence to give the words around it extra emphasis (or sometimes clarity).

If the important information is at the beginning of a sentence, this is where the expletive is placed.

eg. "All truth is not, indeed, of equal importance; but if little violations are allowed, every violation will in time be thought little." - Samuel Johnson

See how the word in commas makes the words around it seem more important? Expletives can be used to emphasise all sorts of things, from short phrases to particular clauses in a verbose sentence.

The most common and useful expletives are: in fact, of course, indeed, I think, without doubt, to be sure, naturally, it seems, after all, for all that, in brief, on the whole, in short, to tell the truth, in any event, clearly, I suppose, I hope, at least, assuredly, certainly, remarkably, importantly and definitely. Overuse of expletives should be avoided in formal writing, but on the whole, they form a useful tool with which to shape a sentence.

The concept, you see, is not difficult at all.

Information drawn from

An expletive is any word that fills out (ex-ple-) an utterance without contributing anything significant to its meaning. As well as the superfluous rhetorical phrases mentioned in the previous write-up, this includes hesitation noises such as um, er, filler words and expressions like well, like, I mean, sort of, and grammatically necessary but empty words like it, there.

It's not the word as such but the context of use. In It's raining, the it doesn't refer to anything that's raining, and in There's no point complaining the there doesn't point to a place where the point of complaining is. So these are both expletive uses, in the grammatical sense. Contrast with It's a reindeer and There's the money, where the words have their full sense and are not expletive.

In You write well and I like monkeys and I mean what I say the words have full, non-expletive value, as opposed to expletive Well I suppose I could.

Swear words are often used expletively, as in "So 'e fuckin' walks into the room, right". But it's not expletive (in the sense current in linguistics) in "I'm fucking your daughter". The idea that an expletive is something like a swear word comes from the Nixon tapes, where the transcript continually included the phrase "Expletive Deleted".

Ex"ple*tive (?), a. [L. expletivus, from expletus, p.p. of explere to fill up; ex out+plere to fill, akin to plenus full: cf. F. expl'etif. See Full.]

Filling up; hence, added merely for the purpose of filling up; superfluous.

"Expletive imagery."


Expletive phrases to plump his speech. Barrow.


© Webster 1913.

Ex"ple*tive, n.

A word, letter, or syllable not necessary to the sense, but inserted to fill a vacancy; an oath.

While explectives their feeble aid to join, And ten low words oft creep in one dull line. Pope.


© Webster 1913.

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