“to be” or not “to be”?

On the long list of interesting items I’ve learned about over the years, but never taken the time to try out, resides a subject called “English Prime” commonly known as “e-prime”. First hearing about “e-prime” long ago (probably during a commute on Interstate 85 thru the Carolina countryside while listening to NPR) I still find the idea intriguing. E-prime advocates the practice of speaking/writing without using any form of the verb “to be”. This includes all usage of ‘are, is, was, were, am, be, being, been’. Both proponents and opponents exist to this concept.

I’ve read some short examples written in e-prime, including rewrites of works by well known authors shown for comparison. LJ list 34 users with e-prime as an interest. If nothing else, LJ is a community with writing as the common denominator. Have you practiced e-prime or know of examples by writers who have?


About Marcus

Who me? Introverted, neurotic, self-absorbed, increasingly cynical observer of human nature and part time social critic in hiding. Most of my life spent avoiding growing up. The naive idealistic passions of youth have evolved into the eclectic eccentricities of adulthood. Northeast Florida small-town native, related to people I can't relate to. Simultaneously my own best friend and worst enemy. Politically and spiritually unaffiliated, my personal ideologies put me all over the map or off it completely.
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4 Responses to “to be” or not “to be”?

  1. mary919 says:

    I just read this and I have to say BLEH. I do try to avoid forms of “to be” because I think it makes writing more interesting. Writing a column lends itself to that because I still remain overly conscious that everything I write is my OPINION. It’s a challenge to find ways to get around the habit and still vary sentence structure and not make it all clunky.
    But changing “The rose is red” to “I believe that the rose exhibits certain qualities that resemble redness”– that’s nonsense! šŸ™‚ These people have too much time on their hands. Or maybe they’re trying to pump up their writing and have nothing to say šŸ™‚ šŸ™‚

    • marcsuttle says:

      Most people who’ve tried to practice e-prime admit it is difficult. Other than for novelty or a classroom exercise I don’t see general benefit. Writing for science and technology though is another matter. However nonsensical it sounds (the rose appears red)it is in fact not red. It simply reflects the “red” visible light portion of the electro-magnetic spectrum. (would people with certain forms of color blindness benefit from e-prime?)

      • mary919 says:

        I think it’d BE a lot easier to just avoid dealing with anyone who can’t understand that there IS no reality– there IS only perception and opinion– rather than trying to explain that concept in every sentence.
        We could come up with something to stamp on their foreheads. It’d BE fun. Or at least I’d perceive it to resember a fun activity similar to fun activities I had perceived to experience in the past.

      • marcsuttle says:

        Uh-oh. I think somehow the subject has switched to ‘role-playing’. To really mangle Descartes, “I imagine someone who interests me, therefore I become that character.” (vs. cogito ergo sum)
        There are examples where e-prime would just be out of the question-
        “To be is to do”–Socrates.
        “To do is to be”–Jean-Paul Sartre.
        “Do be do be do”–Frank Sinatra.

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