E-Prime is an exercise in elimination of the verb "to be".
Korzybski (1879-1950) identifies five forms he sees of "to be" -
- Identity , of the form "noun coupled with noun" [The cat is an animal]
- Predication, of the form "noun coupled with adjective" [The cat is furry]
- Auxiliary, of the form "noun coupled with verb" [The cat is sleeping]
- Existence, of the form "copula noun" [There is a cat]
- Location , of the form "noun coupled with place" [The cat is on the mat]
Korzybski decided that two forms of the verb 'to be' — the 'is' of identity and
the 'is' of predication — had structural problems by assigning an identity that
did not exist. To say, "That movie is good," is not true in many ways.
Bourland, a follower of Korzybski, sees specifically the "identity" and "predication" functions as pernicious, but advocates eliminating all forms for the sake of simplicity. In the case of the "existence" form (and less idiomatically, the "location" form), one can simply substitute the verb "exists".
[In Basic, the translation of "exists" exists as "is"]
The result is E-Prime. (I haven't found why that name.)
The following words are Excluded from E-Prime.
- is ; isn't
- are ; aren't
- was ; wasn't
- were ; weren't
Contractions formed from a pronoun and a conjugation of "to be":
- you're ; we're ; they're
- he's ; she's ; it's
- there's ; here's
- where's ; how's ; what's ; who's
E-prime does not prohibit the following words, because they do not derive from forms of "to be." Some of these serve similar grammatical functions.
- become In Basic, "become" is derived by combining of "be" and "come", thus, belongs in the excluded list
- has ; have ; had
- I've ; you've
- do ; does ; doing ; did
- can ; could
- will ; would
- shall ; should
- may ; might ; must
E-Prime forces a writer to choose verbs and meanings carefully : the elimination of "to be" implicitly eliminates the passive voice and progressive aspect. Some defective verbs, such as "can", use paraphrases involving "to be" in some tenses and moods.
How can one argue that careful selection of words is bad -- only
because the method chosen is a great waste of time.
Using E-Prime, that is, by eliminating "is", makes it harder for a writer or reader to confuse statements of opinion with statements of fact.
But, deception or "spin" can always be created by a clever or stupid person.
Noam Chomsky, widely regarded as the father of modern linguistics, has commented on
Korzybski's criticism of "to be", saying it is trivial and very little of that is relevant.
An attempt to impose this strange elimination of the most common verb in English, the second most used words, comprising 4.2% of total English word frequency,
and to require circumlocution that serves no useful purpose, is
only an idealogical profession of no value.
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.Last updated September 5, 2007.