A Quiz About Expletives

By Mark Nichol

One easy solution for getting sentences off to a strong start is to make them more active by eliminating what is called an expletive, or a dummy subject, such as “There is” or “There are.” It is not necessary to eradicate all expletives from your writing, but minimize them by identifying the real subject of the sentence and reconstructing the sentence with that focus — with the added benefit of a more concise statement.

Each of the sentences below contains an expletive. Recast each sentence as necessary to omit it, then compare your revisions with mine (there’s usually more than one right way to excise an expletive) at the bottom of the page:

1. “There are several vicious cycles that facilitate the progression of alcohol abuse.”

2. “There are federal and state legislators who want to bring government into the picture.”

3. “All across the country, there are numerous private facilities that have figured out the breeding techniques.”

4. “At the same time, there are also motives and pressures toward normalcy.”

5. “Unless there is significant progress soon, we’ll have to cancel the program.”

6. “He wants to know if there is life on other planets.”

7. “At the other house, there is an outdoor patio.”

8. “I think there is a good chance that the proposal will be accepted.”

9. “I am concerned that there is a false impression about our objectives.”

10. “According to recent studies, there is a tendency for the syndrome to worsen over time.”

11. “But then there is John Smith, who has another take on the matter.”

12. “There is a considerable range of expertise among so-called experts.”

13. “Nevertheless, there are numerous private facilities that have figured out the techniques.”

14. “At the same time, there are also motives and pressures toward normalcy.”

15. “To make matters worse, there are several vicious cycles that facilitate the progression of alcohol abuse.”

16. “His understanding is that there are still countless such volumes in existence.”

17. “Ultimately, there are sensitive implications about the issue that remain.”

18. “He adds that there are numerous ethical concerns raised by this practice.

19. “Each year, there are more and more workshops, seminars, and conferences for practitioners in this field.”

20. “As I see it, there are two lines of logic that follow from this premise.”

Answers

1. “Several vicious cycles facilitate the progression of alcohol abuse.”

2. “Some federal and state legislators are itching to bring government into the picture.”

3. “All across the country, numerous private facilities have figured out the breeding techniques.”

4. “At the same time, motives and pressures toward normalcy present themselves.”

5. “Unless significant progress occurs soon, we’ll have to cancel the program.”

6. “He wants to know whether life exists on other planets.”

7. “The other house has an outdoor patio.”

8. “The proposal has a good chance of being accepted.”

9. “I am concerned that they may have developed a false impression about our objectives.”

10. “According to recent studies, the syndrome tends to worsen over time.”

11. “But John Smith has another take on the matter.”

12. “So-called experts demonstrate a considerable range of expertise.”

13. “Nevertheless, numerous private facilities have figured out the techniques.”

14. “At the same time, motives and pressures toward normalcy present themselves.”

15. “To make matters worse, several vicious cycles facilitate the progression of alcohol abuse.”

16. “His understanding is that countless such volumes still exist.”

17. “Ultimately, sensitive implications about the issue remain.”

18. “He adds that this practice raises numerous ethical concerns.”

19. “Each year, practitioners in this field have the opportunity to attend an increasing number of workshops, seminars, and conferences.”

20. “As I see it, two lines of logic follow from this premise.”

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4 Responses to “A Quiz About Expletives”

  • Leif G.S. Notae

    I always get tripped up by these at times, I am glad to see this list pop up. Looks as if it is time to go back to the word forge again. Thanks for putting this up and sharing this with us!

  • Mary Hodges

    I always thought an expletive was a swear-word! I’m thinking mainly of the phrase “expletive deleted” as used about the transcription of the Watergate tapes.
    I checked with OED and it defines expletive as 1. an oath, swear-word or other expression used as an exclamation 2. a word used to fill out a sentence etc,

  • Dave Bartlett

    Number 2: What’s wrong with “Some federal and state legislators want to bring government into the picture”?

    We don’t know how much they want what they want, so editing it to say “Some federal and state legislators are itching to bring government into the picture” is stating something that wasn’t there in the original sentence (i.e. the extent to which they want it,) and is therefore BAD editing. Your shouldn’t be changing (either adding to or removing from) the idea that the original sentence was attempting to express.

  • Mark Nichol

    Dave:

    Take it easy — that’s an editing error. I rewrote the sample sentence I found in print but forgot to reword the revised version. Thanks for point it out.

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