E Prime (it means English Prime) is a way of speaking English without using the verb "to be" in any way ("be, is, am, are, was, were, been, and being"). Instead, an E Prime speaker or writer uses different verbs like "to become," "to remain," and "to equal" or they might choose to rearrange the sentence to show that the "thing" does not actually "act". For example, in E Prime, a writer would change the statement "Mistakes were made" to "Joe made mistakes." This change in wording reveals an actor (Joe) where the previous form concealed the actor. Users of E Prime would consider the changed sentence more accurate.
What E Prime is [change]
D. David Bourland, Jr. first suggested E Prime in 1965. Bourland had studied the discipline (way of thinking) of General Semantics. The main idea of General Semantics is that people can only know what they observe and experience when they see, hear, touch, taste, smell, think, and feel, and furthermore, that what they observe and experience can affect how they observe and experience in the future. Because each person has different experiences throughout their lives, they interpret their experiences differently.
Students of General Semantics and users of E Prime contend that to say "This cat is soft" leaves out many other attributes, and implies that the outside "object" of the cat is the "same as" the inside experience of "softness". Instead, E Prime users say "This cat feels soft TO ME" to remind themselves of the following:
- That their experience of "softness" involves both the outside "object" called "cat" and the eyes, hands, brain and nervous system of the observer.
- That someone else might experience different aspects of the cat.
- That they themselves might experience something different at a different time or in different circumstances. (The cat might scratch them, or look or feel wet or matted with dirt.)
What E Prime is not [change]
Although languages like Arabic, Turkish, and Cantonese do not always use a separate verb for "to be," they do have the idea of "being." For example, an English speaker might say "This apple is red." An Arabic speaker might say "This apple red." Most languages can be used to express the idea of a red apple. An E Prime user chooses to only say that "This apple looks red to me" to remind themselves that "seeing red" involves both the apple and the eye and brain of the person looking at the apple.
Many teachers of English encourage students to use verbs other than "to be." To them, using more active verbs makes writing clearer and more interesting. These teachers want to improve their students' writing and may not agree with the ideas of General Semantics or E Prime.
Different functions of 'to be' [change]
In English, 'to be' can have different functions:
- It talks about Identity: The cat is my only pet, The cat is Garfield
- It talks about belonging to a class, or a group: The cat is an animal
- It can talk about properties: The cat is furry
- It can be an auxiliary verb: The cat is sleeping, The cat is bitten by the dog
- It can talk about existence: There is a cat
- It can talk about location: The cat is here