Expletive Definition

Expletive is a grammatical construction that starts with the words like “it, here and there”, etc. This rhetorical device usually interrupts the normal speech and lays emphasis on the words. It originates from Latin word explere that means to fill, which plays a syntactic role, but does not contribute to the meanings of a sentence or line, and also known as empty words such as in this sentence, “There are some guests waiting for you,” in which there are is expletive phrase.

Common Use of Expletive

  • There are seven chairs around that dining table.
  • It is the director of a company, who maintains the discipline.
  • There’s a time bomb fixed in the middle of hall.
  • It is extreme felicity that makes Samuel reach for another cup of tea.

Examples of Expletive from Literature

Example 1

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

(From Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen)

See, the use of it was not necessary at the beginning; however, it emphasizes the overall impact of this sentence. You can see expletive word in italics.

Example 2

Here indeed is the true lover,” said the Nightingale. “What I sing of, he suffers – what is joy to me, to him is pain. Surely Love is a wonderful thing. It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals. Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the marketplace. It may not be purchased of the merchants, nor can it be weighed out in the balance for gold.”

(From the Nightingale and Rose by Oscar Wilde)

Look in this excerpt where Oscar Wilde has used expletive word here, and phrase it is at the beginning of their respective sentences.

Example 3

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England…It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at that favoured period, as at this.

(From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

Dickens recurrently used expletive phrases, it was and there were in the introduction of his famous novel A Tale of Two Cities. Though these phrases have no semantic purpose to serve, they allow him to express the importance of idea with emphasis on each one.

Example 4

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been
wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning;
It is well I drew the curtain,” thought I; and I wished fervently
he might not discover my hiding-place.

(From Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)

Again, in this example look carefully at the italicized phrase, there was, at the opening slot of this extract. The use of this phrase draws attention of the readers to the emphasis and absence of it on other words.

Example 5

There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.

(From The Rime of Ancient Mariner by S.T Coleridge)

In this case, Coleridge uses of expletive word, there, to highlight the idea of weary time, and allows the readers to focus on it and subject follows the verb rather than preceding the verb.

Example 6

There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
(From La Belle Dame sans Merci by John Keats)

Here, the use of expletive phrase is, there are, which makes the readers notice an object—that is the spring season.

Function of Expletive

Expletive words act as an operator that allows writers to manipulate their sentences in many ways. We see its usage in novels, poetry, prose, journalism, advertisement and many other fields. Expletives also serve as filler words through which writers shift other words to different places for emphasis. Hence, they have a purpose in writing; however, if you use them recurrently in a text, they will weaken the quality of writing. Another purpose of using this construction is to help writers express something in a different way than a straight and simple recitation would do.

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