Hippie Writing Coach Vol. I, Issue 3: Expletives

Today, we are going to talk about how to keep those @#$%!&* expletives out of your writing.

No, not that kind of expletive. Under the right circumstances, the expletives you use during rush hour can add emotion to your writing, provide insight into a character’s personality, or emphasize a point. (Don’t believe me? Watch a @#$%!&* Quentin Tarantino flick.)

For purposes of this blog post, when I say “expletive,” I am referring to syntactic expletives — pronouns that add nothing to the meaning of a sentence but are there for structural reasons.

Examples:

There are many fine swear words in the English language.
During class, it is inappropriate to use those words.
There were fifteen kids in detention after the teacher cracked down on profanity.
Here are some things I will not tolerate in my class: insubordination, cheating, and grammatically incorrect profanity.
It is entirely possible to drop an f-bomb without ending your sentence in a preposition.

Sometimes you just can’t avoid an expletive. For instance, there are only so many ways to say, “It’s raining.” (See what I just did there?) Just don’t get carried away. Like passive voice, expletives often add unnecessary words and can make your writing sound dull and flat. Removing expletives can improve your writing.

Meh: There are many fine swear words in the English language.
Better: The English language contains many fine swear words.

Meh: Here are some things I will not tolerate in my class: insubordination, cheating, and grammatically incorrect profanity.
Better: I will not tolerate insubordination, cheating, or grammatically incorrect profanity in my class.

Notice that removing the expletive not only shortens the sentence, but also makes it more active by giving it a clear subject that is actually doing something.

Use the search feature on your word processor to find instances of “there are,” “there is,” and “it is” in your writing. When you find one of these phrases, try rewriting the sentence to remove the expletive. If the new sentence makes sense and sounds OK, use it. If it sounds awkward or confusing, keep the expletive.

If you need practice, try rewriting the example sentences to remove the expletives.

Emily

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