What are Expletive Constructions and Why Should I Avoid Them?

expletive constructionsWhether you write professionally, churn out the odd report as part of your job, or write papers and stories in school, structural and grammatical missteps are part of the process. One such misstep is known as expletive construction.

No, this doesn’t refer to stuffing profanities into your sentences, but it will take away from the energy, flow and overall quality of the writing. 

In a Nutshell…

Basically, expletive constructions are phrases or sentences that begin with “There are,” “There is,” “It is,” or “It was.” The verb “to be” is also part of many of these uninspired sentences.

Examples include, “There are going to be hundreds of people attending the party.”

“There is an easy way to determine the external temperature.”

“It is going to be a long, cold winter.”

“It was the setting sun that made it hard to see the ball.”

What’s the Problem?

Expletive constructions have a way of stripping the energy from a sentence before it really gets rolling. In these sentences, the word it or there acts as filler for the real subject of the sentence, and the verbs are passive. The result is a sentence that is flat and boring, and doesn’t draw the reader in. The subject and verb have no real meaning and the writing is not engaging.

How to Avoid Expletive Construction

Luckily, you can avoid or correct most expletive construction by rearranging a few words in the sentence. When you do, the sentence seems livelier and the true meaning becomes clear. Here are corrections for the above expletives:

Expletive: There are going to be hundreds of people attending the party.

Correction: Hundreds of people will attend the party.

Expletive: There is an easy way to determine the external temperature.

Correction: The external temperature is easy to determine.

Expletive: It is going to be a long, cold winter.

Correction: The winter will be long and cold.

Expletive: It was the setting sun that made it hard to see the ball.

Correction: The setting sun made the ball hard to see.

Although the changes are subtle, they simplify the sentences and make them more direct. Of course, like most rules this one is okay to break from time to time.

Is It Always Bad?

If you use “it is” at the beginning of a sentence and it refers to a subject that was clearly defined in the previous sentence, you’ve likely avoided expletive construction. Here’s an example: “Karate gives me a great workout. It is one of the most thorough forms of exercise available.” In this sentence, you can see that it refers to karate, as established in the first sentence.

Expletive construction and similar structural issues have the potential to deflate your writing, but correctly identifying them and applying a quick fix is usually quite challenging. If you have a piece of writing that can’t have any mistakes, give us a call and we will gladly clean it up for you.