72 Expletive Constructions

Christina Frasier

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize expletive constructions
  • Identify strategies to reduce expletive constructions

What is an expletive construction?

Basically, expletive constructions are formed when someone writes it + be- verb or there + be-verb. Students often overuse this construction, so
in addition to expletive constructions being unclear, they can also be repetitive.


  • “It” example: Due to the lab explosion, we can conclude that it is unlikely the protocol was followed.
  • “There” example: There are many reasons why all students and faculty must follow research protocols closely. 


While beginning sentences with the pronoun “it” and “there” is not grammatically incorrect, doing so often leads to imprecise and passive sentence constructions that are not clear or straightforward.


Here is a more detailed look at a sentence with expletive construction as well as the different ways you can edit it out to make a clearer sentence:


  • Bad: It was found in an Australian study that only 31% of students spent more than 5 hours a day studying (Richardson, et al., 2019, p. 22).
  • Better: A study of Australian students found only 31% spent more than 5 hours a day studying (Richardson, et al., 2019, p. 22).
  • Better: Richardson et al. (2019) found that only 31% of students spent more than 5 hours a day studying (p. 22).
  • Better: Researchers found that only 31% of students spent more than 5 hours a day studying (Richardson, et al., 2019, p. 22).

Note that the “bad” sentence is not ungrammatical; rather, the reader does not know what the “it” in the sentence is. Vague pronoun references are unclear and confusing to the reader. The “better” sentences show different approaches to editing out the expletive construction, and they eliminate passive voice as well.


Below are common examples of the unclear use of “it”:


  • It looks like rain.

What, exactly, looks like rain? While this sort of language is perfectly fine in conversation, it is too inexact for formal college essays. 

  • It goes to show that . . .

This phrase does not say anything at all.

  • It is interesting that . . . 

This expletive construction expresses a personal preference, which might not be appropriate for your writing assignments.


Beginning sentences with “there” + be is also not grammatically incorrect. However, doing so leads to imprecise language as “it” + be.


  • Bad: There has been a lot of literature written over the years about gentrification (Ross, 2019, p. 6).
  • Better: In the past fifteen years, researchers have begun focussing more closely on the negative affects of gentrification (Ross, 2019, p. 6). 

The above sentence is better because it eliminates expletive construction, passive voice, and informal language (eg, “a lot”). It also gives a specific time frame for the research. Generally, the more concrete the language is in academic writing, the better.




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From College to Career: A Handbook for Student Writers Copyright © by Christina Frasier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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