Business Writing

Avoid Expletives

7. 3. 2016

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When you look up ‘expletive’ in a dictionary you will find at least two definitions. In this post I’m not talking about the definition that includes swearing and profanity. Of course swearing and profanity don’t belong in business writing so it would serve you well, and may possibly save your career, to avoid using them.

Here we will consider the grammatical term ‘expletive’ and why it’s good to avoid these expletives too.

Expletives are empty words or phrases—they don’t add meaning to your sentence. Empty words make your text wordy. If you’ve been following my writing tips series, you’ll know how I feel about wordiness in business writing.

The great thing about these expletives is that you can cut them out without changing your overall meaning.

Here, There, It + “to Be”

One common form of expletive that warrants dismissal from your writing (and not just from business writing) is the structure formed by the words here, there or it followed by some form of the verb to be when to be is used as the main verb of the sentence.

The Postponed Subject

These expletives are sometimes referred to as the null, dummy, or existential subject, because they don’t add anything, rather they take the part of a subject which occurs later in the sentence.

Here’s an example with a postponed subject:

  • It is having the right team that is important. (Having the right team is the postponed subject.)
  • Having the right team is important.

Making Your Sentence More Specific

Starting your sentences with these structures can often make them less specific.

  • There are many things for us to discuss at the meeting.

Revision to make the sentence more specific:

  • Today we need to discuss staffing, the monthly sales figures and consider the proposal for our next marketing campaign.

Some More Examples of Ways to Remove Expletives

  • There are hundreds of people coming to the conference.

Revision to eliminate empty words:

  • Hundreds of people are coming to the conference.

 

  • It is important to consider all the options before we make our decision.

Revision to eliminate empty words:

  • We must consider all the options before we make our decision.

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