Expletive noun phrase

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An expletive (noun phrase) is a noun phrase (mostly a pronoun-like element) that occupies a syntactic position, but has no semantic role.

Expletive is a grammatical element having no semantic content and occurring in theta-bar positions.


The best-known expletive is the English it in ambient constructions like it is raining, and in extraposition constructions like It is nice that you managed to come.

there in (i) and it in (ii) are expletives.

(i)  There is a man in the room
(ii) It seems that John is ill


dummy noun phrase


This usage seems to date only from the 1970s.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Chomsky, N. 1993. A Minimalist Program for Linguistic Theory, MIT occasional papers in linguistics, 1-67. Reprinted in: Chomsky (1995).
  • Chomsky, N. 1986a. Knowledge of language: its nature, origin and use, Praeger, New York.
  • Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding, Foris, Dordrecht.