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Slim Down Your Writing Part 2: Avoiding Expletives

In an earlier post, Slim Down Your Writing, I discussed three easy ways to slim down and tighten up your writing: use fewer words, use the active voice, and control your use of adjectives and adverbs.

Today's post is Part 2 of slimming down and tightening up, and covers expletives. You're likely familiar with the more common definition of expletives -- those words your mother told you not to use (or at least she should have). The expletives we'll discuss today are related to grammar usage. They are non-specific words -- most commonly ithere, or there -- that take the place of a noun. Expletives are one type of indefinite pronoun, for those of you keeping track of the details.

Let's look at some expletives in action:

  • It might rain tomorrow.
  • There wasn't enough pizza for everyone at the party.
  • It would be awesome to win the lottery.
  • It's hard to write good, tight sentences.
  • Here is a list of some of my favorite restaurants.

Expletives (in the grammatical sense) are fairly harmless and don't typically disrupt the flow of your writing, and their use is more of habit than necessity. Let's face it, the use of an expletive is often a simple case of laziness. They're empty words that don't serve a real purpose, so try to avoid them when you can, and your writing will be cleaner and tighter.

Let's recast the violating sentences from above:

  • Tomorrow's weather forecast calls for rain.
  • We didn't order enough pizza.
  • Winning the lottery would change my life.
  • Writing good, tight sentences is challenging.
  • I've compiled a list of my favorite restaurants.

Each of these sentences now has a clearly identified subject, and it's worth noting that these new and improved sentences also correct some passive voice violations.

There are occasions where you simply can't get around an expletive, and that's fine. But if you develop the habit of watching for them and avoiding them when you can, you'll be pleased with the new shape of your writing.

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