an interjectory word or expression, frequently profane; an exclamatory oath.
a syllable, word, or phrase serving to fill out.
Grammar. a word considered as regularly filling the syntactic position of another, as it in It is his duty to go, or there in There is nothing here.


Also ex·ple·to·ry [ek-spli-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee] /ˈɛk splɪˌtɔr i, -ˌtoʊr i/. added merely to fill out a sentence or line, give emphasis, etc.: Expletive remarks padded the speech.

Origin of expletive

1600–10; < Late Latin explētīvus serving to fill out, equivalent to Latin explēt(us) filled, filled up (past participle of explēre; see explement) + -īvus -ive
Related formsex·ple·tive·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for expletive

curse, cuss, oath, interjection

Examples from the Web for expletive

Contemporary Examples of expletive

Historical Examples of expletive

  • The Parson blurted an expletive, inflected like the profane.

    Dwellers in the Hills

    Melville Davisson Post

  • This expletive was certainly not appreciated by her who used it.

    Clare Avery

    Emily Sarah Holt

  • When the word devil is used as a general term or as an expletive the capital is not used.


    Frederick W. Hamilton

  • He drawled the expletive as though it were some Oriental word.

    The Sleuth of St. James's Square

    Melville Davisson Post

  • I think it was “hang” he said—I was not sure about the expletive.

    The Yellow House

    E. Phillips Oppenheim

British Dictionary definitions for expletive



an exclamation or swearword; an oath or a sound expressing an emotional reaction rather than any particular meaning
any syllable, word, or phrase conveying no independent meaning, esp one inserted in a line of verse for the sake of the metre

adjective Also: expletory (ɪkˈspliːtərɪ)

expressing no particular meaning, esp when filling out a line of verse
Derived Formsexpletively, adverb

Word Origin for expletive

C17: from Late Latin explētīvus for filling out, from explēre, from plēre to fill
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for expletive

1610s, originally "a word or phrase serving to fill out a sentence or metrical line," from Middle French explétif (15c.) and directly from Late Latin expletivus "serving to fill out," from explet-, past participle stem of Latin explere "fill out," from ex- "out" (see ex-) + plere "to fill" (see pleio-).

Sense of "exclamation," often in the form of a cuss word, first recorded 1815 in Sir Walter Scott, popularized by edited transcripts of Watergate tapes (mid-1970s), in which expletive deleted replaced President Nixon's salty expressions. As an adjective, from 1660s.


mid-15c., from Latin expletivus (see expletive (n.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

expletive in Culture



Any exclamation or oath, especially one that is obscene or profane, as in “Dammit, I forgot to buy the milk.”


The Oval Office tapes of President Richard Nixon, released during the investigation of the Watergate scandal, made famous the phrase “expletive deleted,” which appeared frequently in expurgated transcripts of the tapes.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.