Definition of expletive in English:


Pronunciation /ˈeksplədiv/ /ˈɛksplədɪv/

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  • 1An oath or swear word.

    ‘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.’
    • ‘After spitting out a stream of expletives, the boxer reportedly made a threatening move towards the knot of reporters before members of his entourage grabbed him.’
    • ‘He asked where the bus was going, lacing his inquiry liberally with four-letter expletives.’
    • ‘He let out a stream of expletives, loud and angry.’
    • ‘Stunned, the CEO let loose a stream of expletives and walked out.’
    • ‘Darren heard the man scream out a stream of expletives towards him.’
    • ‘She looked exactly like a tiny doll lying there… until a stream of expletives issued from her mouth.’
    • ‘He had had enough and a stream of expletives raced through his mind as he raced back towards the rest of his band.’
    • ‘One man in the audience shouted: ‘You're talking about a man's life, Billy’ but the comic reportedly responded with a four-letter expletive.’
    • ‘While you shout expletives and curse my name, allow me to assure I do remember your suggestion that we promise not to use each others positions to our advantage.’
    • ‘Connor swore, uttering expletives as they came to mind.’
    • ‘Such outbursts would not impress the public; expletives and desecrations of electoral oaths would thus remain behind closed doors.’
    • ‘I still haven't calmed down enough after 48 hours to write a rational critique of the ‘show’ without exposing you, dear reader, to even more expletives.’
    • ‘Please excuse the expletives, I'm sure you are all aware of how ‘expressive’ men can get when they are watching sporting events and having a few drinks.’
    • ‘After all is there anything more pathetic than listening to someone peppering his or her conversation with expletives in the belief that they are impressing someone, anyone.’
    • ‘In the evening, everyone shared one dressing-room, where the air was choking with cigarette smoke and expletives.’
    • ‘So from waking up and starting the day off with foul expletives, my mood has changed to one of relative happiness.’
    • ‘While a police captain barked orders through a bullhorn, an angry crowd of 3,000 people shouted back expletives.’
    swear word, oath, curse, obscenity, profanity, epithet, imprecation, four-letter word, exclamation
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    1. 1.1Grammar A word or phrase used to fill out a sentence or a line of verse without adding to the sense.
      ‘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 phrase, meaningless word, redundant phrase, redundant word, superfluous phrase, superfluous word, unnecessary phrase, unnecessary word
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  • (of a word or phrase) serving to fill out a sentence or line of verse.

    ‘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.