Posted by: Jack Henry | August 23, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Expletives at the Beginning of Your Sentence

Good morning! For some time now, I’ve wanted to cover the overuse of grammatical expletives to start sentences. But it’s been difficult to figure out how to explain this quasi-rule simply. I think it would be best to start with a definition: grammatical expletives are words and phrases that do not “add to sense or meaning.” You can think of them as filler. Swear words are a type of expletive—they don’t add grammatical value; they are emotional filler. But swear words are not the expletives I will be dealing with today: at least not during work hours!

I want to discuss a particular expletive that people often use to begin sentences: There is/There are. Although I don’t know of a specific rule that says you cannot start sentences with these words, experts agree that, usually, they just clutter your writing.

Using a few examples, I’ll show you that the words There is/There are, in many cases, are not necessary at the beginning of a sentence. Often, this expletive—like empty calories in your diet—doesn’t add any nutritional value.

Sentence beginning with expletive Sentence without expletive
There is a madman that lives in the house on the hill. A madman lives in the house on the hill.
There is a Membership Status field in the Account record that allows credit unions to designate a non-member status. The Membership Status field in the Account record allows credit unions to designate a non-member status.
There are five different types of parameters involved in inventory control for traveler’s checks. Five different types of parameters are involved in inventory control for traveler’s checks.
There are a variety of settings or user preferences that I can change for you. I can change a variety of settings or user preferences for you.
There are jobs running. Jobs are running

I am not saying that you should never use There is/There are to start a sentence. Sometimes the phrase cannot be edited out as simply as I’ve shown above, and sometimes the phrase is useful. For example, you might choose to say, “There is no reason to be upsetrather than “Don’t be upset.”The later sounds a little too much like an order. You always need to consider the situation, your tone, who you’re talking to, what you’re talking about, etc. But for the purposes of professional, minimalist writing, you’ll find you can usually omit this expletive or revise your sentence to make it more concise.

What I’m asking you to do is this: when you are writing in a professional capacity, and you start a sentence with there is or there are, ask yourself if you can revise the sentence to get rid of the expletive. If you can, you probably should, just for the sake of cleaner, clearer writing.

If you want more information on this topic, check out these links:

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Extension: 765432

Symitar Documentation Services

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