Definition of expletive in English:

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Pronunciation: /ɪkˈspliːtɪv/
Pronunciation: /ɛkˈspliːtɪv/


1An oath or swear word: he was greeted by a stream of expletives
More example sentences
  • She let out a long string of oaths and expletives, carefully picking herself up from the floor.
  • Instead of a lesson in experimental theatre, they were bombarded with graphic scenes of violence and a non-stop stream of expletives.
  • The game remained heated, with the sent-off players voicing their unhappiness on the sidelines and adding to a stream of expletives.
2 Grammar A word or phrase used to fill out a sentence or a line of verse without adding to the sense.
Example sentences
  • I think people don't use ‘it’ for exactly that reason Todd - it's so often an expletive or a dummy pronoun that it would get confusing.
  • Finally, both the antecedent of PRO and PRO itself have to be an argument and cannot be an expletive.
filler, fill-in, stopgap, meaningless word/phrase, redundant word/phrase, superfluous word/phrase, unnecessary word/phrase


(Of a word or phrase) serving to fill out a sentence or line of verse.
Example sentences
  • Icelandic takes the non-referential property of quasi-argumental null subjects as basic, therefore quasi-argumental null subjects in the language can be interpreted as basically expletive.
  • ‘There’ is used as the subject of an existential sentence in standard English while it is used in most other situations in which a ‘dummy’ or expletive subject is necessary.
  • A-positions are not necessarily assigned a theta role: The subject position may be occupied by an expletive element.


Late Middle English (as an adjective): from late Latin expletivus, from explere 'fill out', from ex- 'out' + plere 'fill'. The noun sense 'word used merely to fill out a sentence' (early 17th century) was applied specifically to a swear word in the early 19th century.

  • This word is from late Latin expletivus, from explere ‘fill out’, from ex- ‘out’ and plere ‘to fill’. The general sense ‘word used merely to fill out a sentence’ (early 17th century) was applied specifically to an oath or swear word in the early 19th century. The phrase expletive deleted gained a high profile in the 1970s in the submission of recorded conversations involving President Nixon to the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives (30 April 1974).

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: ex|ple¦tive

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