E-Prime is a version of the English language that excludes all forms of the verb to be. Hence, E-Prime allows neither conjugations of to be (am, are, is, was, were, be, been, being), nor archaic forms (e.g. art, wast, wert), nor contractions (‘s, ‘m, ‘re).
Some scholars advocate using E-Prime as a device to clarify thinking and strengthen writing. For example, the sentence “the movie was good” could translate into E-Prime as “I liked the movie” or as “the movie made me laugh”. The E-Prime versions communicate the speaker’s experience rather than judgment, making it harder for the writer or reader to confuse opinion with fact.
advocates also suggest that use of E-Prime leads to a less dogmatic style of language that reduces the possibility of misunderstanding and for conflict.
While I find eliminating “to be” heavy-handed, I feel gratified to find others advocating similar goals for similar reasons. If we don’t think about it, our language forces us to communicate with judgment, dogma, and confusion, leading to conflict.
Changing our language can force us to clarify and communicate less judgment and dogma, reducing conflict. In other words, raising your self-awareness improves your relationships with yourself and others for most people.
Learning about E-prime has led me to use “to be” less. I’ve also heard before that reducing using “to be” makes writing more vigorous and clear. Putting it into practice makes you think more — that is, raises your awareness — about what you say.
Then again, sometimes you just want to say something without thinking so much about the details of how you say it. For me, using judgmental words and “to be” are useful exercises. Avoiding them completely takes more effort than I’m up to so far.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees