Common marketing missteps waste time and money. These 5 fixes are GAME CHANGERS.

Expletives and Buried Subjects

buried subjects and expletives - Carolyn Daughters

Here, I’m going to talk about why expletives and buried subjects are awful. Oh, and expletives aren’t always curse words. I should probably mention that.

Expletives and Buried Subjects

Unnecessary expletives and buried subjects are the bane of my existence.

Okay, not really, but they annoy the bejesus out of me.

An expletive is a crude or obscene expression. Or it’s an unnecessary word or phrase used to fill space in a sentence. “Damn it,” is an example of an expletive. It is, there is, and there are are also expletives, as in, “There are two bedrooms in the back of the house.”

Expletives like it is, there is, there are serve as weak and uninteresting placeholders. They fill the gap where the real subject of the sentence should be and thus delay that subject. To rephrase the sentence above, you can say, “Two bedrooms are in the back of the house.” And why not? Ditch the fluff, I say.

That brings me to buried subjects. And, no, I’m not talking about the estimated 57,000 people King Henry VIII executed. I’m talking about buried subjects of sentences.

Here’s an example from E. B. White’s Stuart Little (the subject appears in blue; the main verb appears in boldface):

“In the loveliest town of all, where the houses were white and high and the elms trees were green and higher than the houses, where the front yards were wide and pleasant and the back yards were bushy and worth finding out about, where the streets sloped down to the stream and the stream flowed quietly under the bridge, where the lawns ended in orchards and the orchards ended in fields and the fields ended in pastures and the pastures climbed the hill and disappeared over the top toward the wonderful wide sky, in this loveliest of all towns Stuart stopped to get a drink of sarsaparilla.”

The subject, Stuart, appears as the 100th word in this massive sentence. The main verb, stopped, appears as word #101. The problem: when we read, the first thing we search for in each sentence, consciously or unconsciously, is the subject. The second thing we look for is the main verb.

(Disclaimer: I have nothing against this story about a murine human, and I love E. B. White, particularly, the pithy and delightful Elements of Style.)

I would argue that sentences like these are way more common than you’d expect. Feel free to put my argument to the test — look out for buried subjects and see how they impact readability and clarity.

Try the Persuasive Writing Engine

Even writers who identify their writing goal, know their audience, and shape their message with intention sometimes have trouble finding a way to communicate that argument effectively. Well-designed arguments sometimes don’t live up to their potential when readers:

  • Need to work too hard to translate ideas into a story they can understand.
  • Need to fill in any missing ideas from their own knowledge base.
  • Judge writing to be indirect, abstract, dense, or unclear.
  • Interpret the writing in an unexpected way.
  • Distrust or become confused about the information shared.


Unnecessary expletives and buried subjects make for muddled, awkward, hard-to-decipher sentences. The solution: The Persuasive Writing Engine.

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