Expletives

Expletives or placeholders are words or phrases that are used to fill out a sentence without adding essential meaning to the sense of the whole sentence.

Expletives in The English Language

What Are Expletives?

In grammar, an expletive is a word or phrase that is used to fill a syntactic slot without adding any extra meaning to the sentence. Expletives are commonly used in English to add emphasis or to create sentence balance, but they do not contribute to the overall meaning of the sentence.

Why Do We Use Expletives?

Expletives are not completely insignificant or meaningless. We can use them:

  1. to indicate emphasis
  2. to give a particular tone to the statement
  3. to help build the meter in verse
  4. to indicate tense

Common Expletives in English

In English, there are some words and phrases that are used as expletives:

  1. like
  2. you know
  3. so
  4. damn it
  5. gosh golly
  6. by golly
  7. oaths or profanities

Let's take a look at some examples:

Well, you know, we've got to start this project.

I was like, 'excuse me who are you again?'

They thought they could win and, by golly, they did!

Damn it, it's you again!

Attributive Expletives

These expletives are attributive adjectives or adverbs that are used to indicate a strong feeling (anger, irritation, approval, excitement, etc.). These words do not add any meaning to the sentence nor are they necessary in the sentence. They are mostly profanities or swear words. For example:

You'd better pay for your bloody lunch, or I will call the cops.

The expletive 'bloody' is usually used among British speakers.

Where is my fking phone?

This festival is downright ridiculous.

Look at my damn house.

Do as an Expletive

In time, the verb 'do' began to be used as an expletive before verbs to show emphasis. In this case, 'do' does not have any meaning, it is simply there as a filler. For example:

Do as an Expletive

You do look nice in that hat.

Do have another sandwich.

Negative Expletive

A negative expletive is a sentence construction that includes one or more negative words that are redundant or unnecessary. One example is the double negative construction in English, which was more commonly used in old English but can still be found in modern English in some contexts. For example:

Nobody never helped me about it.

I ain't never going back there again

Syntactic Expletive

A syntactic expletive is a pronoun that is used at the beginning of a sentence without adding any semantic meaning. These pronouns are also known as dummy subjects or pronouns. The primary purpose of these expletives is to provide a subject for the sentence and to indicate the existence of something. Common syntactic expletives of English are:

  • It is
  • There is/are
  • Here is/are

There is an apple tree in the backyard.

"There" as an individual word doesn't carry any meaning here, it just points to existence of something. It just has a grammatical purpose.

It is over 200 miles from London to Manchester.

“It” does not refer to anything, it can’t be replaced with a noun unlike regular pronouns.

Here are some pictures of John when he was little.

There are a few things we need to discuss.

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