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+3 votes
i recently learned about eprime (short for english prime), a language identical to english with the exception that you cannot use the verb “to be” and all of its potential forms (am, is, are, was, were,  be, been, they’re, isn’t, etc.).  proponents suggest that among other benefits, using eprime leads to a reduction of absolutism and dogma.

the concept intrigued me a lot. and as i experimented writing and speaking this way,  not only did it help to clarify my thoughts, but i began to see  more connections between this alternate language and anarchy. it also took a lot more effort than I thought it would, considering the absence of essentially only one word!

i’d like to hear what others think about it, especially as it may relate to anarchy.  


(i wrote all of the above in eprime – as far as I can tell).

edited: to add, just let me know if you'd like a few links to info on the subject.
by (8.5k points)
i think thought experiments are great. things we do to get out of conscious or unconscious ruts are fun and informative.
and i do agree that language formats us (ew) in ways invisible to us (and not!), and that english lends itself to declarative simplicity.
but i could also argue that u.s. culture (at least certain parts of it) is tending towards rejecting decisiveness and clarity, that there is a "talking therapy" effect of relativity and mushiness, and that many of the people who would be most interested in this experiment are the people who are least comfortable with the positive aspects of declarative statements.
dot, removing "to be" from english does nothing that i can see to remove declarative statements, decisiveness, and clarity. in my experience of using eprime, i've noticed more of those qualities, not less. i don't understand the basis for your argument (the second part of your comment).
maybe you're right.
i had hoped for more discussion, but maybe i didn't sound like it. :)
bornagain, im confused as to how one would talk without "to be" in english. Give me a couple examples of how you would remake statements with "to be"
rick, i'll come back later with some more comments to hopefully make it clearer (and to discuss the benefits i see with eprime, as well as the relationship to anarchy), but i'll leave you with a few examples for now...

as an example, i could reword your statement above "'i'm confused as to how one would talk without 'to be' in English".... to

"i feel confused as to how one would talk without 'to be' in English" or

"how to talk without 'to be' in English confuses me".

dot's comment above "maybe you're right"... into

"i might agree with you.'  ...or

"maybe you have some points that make sense"

another example....

"i'm an anarchist" (non-eprime)

versus some e-prime versions...

"i call myself an anarchist"

"i desire anarchy"

"i live for anarchy"

"i'd like to see the whole world living in anarchy"

"i think anarchy rocks"

"fuck the hierarchical institutions"

"i want anarchic relationships"

someone walking outside to a group of friends says....

"it's cold out here"  (non-eprime) versus

"i feel cold out here" (eprime)

and the famous

 "to be or not to be...that is the question"

"to live or die....i ask myself this question"

also, i wrote my original question, as well as this response, in eprime.
ok, you replace being with a feeling or action, that's interesting
yes, among other things...

like i've noticed the writer or speaker of the statement often comes back into the picture, where normally they've disappeared. for example, you could translate your last statement to eprime by changing, "that's interesting" to "that interests me." now i have more of an understanding of you, rather than thinking of a thing (the ideas you discovered, in this case) as having an inherent quality of "interesting".

edited to add: although many people probably automatically interpret "that's interesting" to "that interests me", depending on the subject matter, emotions involved, and so on, i see where it could make a big difference. also, when i hear something stated in eprime, i can usually visualize it better - in this case, a person feeling curious, rather than thinking about whether a concept "is" interesting or not.
ba@, i have to admit that reading through this entire page has caused me to revisit my previous (and complete) lack of interest in eprime. my "obsession" with context and subjectivity over absolutes and objectivity make eprime appealing on that level at minimum. i tend to (try to) express myself with phrases like "i find that useless" rather than "that is useless", for that very reason.

i think it also points to one way that eprime could have relevance to anarchic expression of ideas.
followup: i do like the concept - especially where using eprime can change a phrase from seeming objective/authoritative to more "naturally" subjective and self-focused. i also like yosemite's thought about how eprime could potentially impact essentialist discourse.

yet i have found that there are plenty of cases where trying to find alternative ways of expressing my thoughts results in sentences that are notably less concise, and in some cases even less clear (at least to me). of course, if i spend enough time thinking about it i could resolve that. but if i have to wrack my brain, and potentially lose my train of thought, whenever i want to avoid the use of a single (very common) verb, that linguistic challenge does not interest me very much.

conciseness and clarity matter more to me than following some grammar or vocabulary rule.

so, like with every tool i come across, i will use it when it makes sense to me. and i think it does make sense in many cases.
serious question (at the risk of sounding like i actually know grammar this well...)

how would one deal with the continuous present form of verb conjugation? for example: i am running, it is raining, he is crying, we are conversing, etc.

would that be ok in eprime?
hey funky, thanks for the prompts....

regarding the continuous present verb forms, each one i'd probably handle differently.

in speech, i can't think of a context where i'd say "i'm running" or "we're conversing"....because to use that tense i would need to say "i'm running" while running, or "we're conversing" during a conversation. and in writing, i don't recall reading many stories in present tense, other than perhaps in a stream of consciousness mode. but you could say "i run". a context for those phrases would help me give more examples.

"it's raining" i hear all the time. you could say " i see the rain outside", or "i feel raindrops", "i see the rain falling (or splashing)". sometimes when i see the rain, i just exclaim "look at the size of those raindrops!" or "look at the rain". or to borrow some song lyrics..."raindrops keep falling on my head", or "here comes the rain again".

basically, i think you can use sensory perceptions more, along with other verbs. in the "it is raining" statement, i always wondered what "it" means. who or what does the "it" refer to? and then, "it is" sounds even more abstract. and sometimes the rain falls right near me, but not 100 yards away (depending on clouds, wind, etc) . the "it" reference feels more obscure.

"he's crying" - you could say "i see him crying", or "i see tears coming down his cheeks", or "he cries". in present tense when writing, i can't think of many contexts where you'd come across "he's crying"(unless in which case i'd still write "he's crying"....unless the character spoke in eprime. :) )

you could replace "i'm hungry" with "i feel hungry", or "i need to eat!"

i think the main differences between "to be" or not "to be" lie in a) indicating where the perception comes from, and b) how you perceive the particular thing/phenomena. with "to be", those elements of perception seem to disappear.

regarding the aspect of feeling slowed down when writing. yes. i didn't like that when i first started trying to write in eprime. so, i decided to often write as i normally would, not giving any thought to eprime, so i could let my thoughts flow uncensored and more rapidly. later, i'd go back over the writing and change it to eprime. often, i'd try more than one way to change it, and then see which version felt more clear, concise, descriptive, to my point, etc. the more i did this, the more easily i began writing in eprime without having to slow down so much. in speech, especially in emotional situations, i've found the slow down beneficial....but it also takes a lot more work than in writing.

regarding the "less concise" aspect...yes, sometimes eprime has led me to excessive wordiness (or to sound less clear), but i think that comes primarily from not having much practice writing that way. most of the time, you can easily become more concise.

for example, in the sentence in your comment above "i have found that there are plenty of cases....", if you just remove the "are", you also automatically remove "that" and "there"....and in eprime you end up with "i have found plenty of cases...."

i also like the creativity i usually need to use to write this way....but i agree that sometimes you can feel slowed down or constrained without any benefit. i think it depends on the particular form and context of  the 'to be" statement. but i've also found that by doing it for every instance (like if i decide to write in eprime for a particular piece of writing), i eliminate having to consider which instances might make more of an impact, and i know i'll include the the ones that do. so you might consider just writing particular pieces in eprime, or write one without eprime initially and then go back and re-write and edit to see if you can use the process to increase clarity and conciseness. you may just change particular passages.

and along with the potential for more clarity and a reduction in absolute/objective language, i like that i usually add more sensory description as a result.....creating more visual, action oriented, specific, and feeling aspects within the writing.

edited to add: eprime, you can still find ways to appear objective and authoritative (i know i've done it!), along with the other reasons i mentioned, i often use it to remind myself of my intent when communicating with language - that i want to describe and reveal what i see, think, feel, imagine, experience - more than anything else. and hopefully that will help to make more of a connection with other people.
after a little more thought about "continuous present tense form"....i think that particular use of "to be" makes the least difference in e-prime, and also presents the biggest challenge....

i thought about other instances where i use that tense, like  "i'm making dinner". i don't know how you would say that without sounding cave-like "i make dinner now" (although perhaps for a night of laughs i'd try it)...and i don't really see much benefit from trying to use e-prime in those situations.

although, you could even question the whole notion of a  "continuous present tense verb" and what that implies. if i tell someone "i am making dinner", i might have paused to tell them that, so at that moment i did not do anything to make dinner....or maybe i stop chopping to momentarily scratch my nose... or perhaps i sing as i the time you see tears on someone's face perhaps they've stopped other words, the moment to moment changes (and multiple facets ) of activities that the "continuous" aspect of "to be" nullifies.

i think most instances of that continuous present tense form in speech result as an answer to (non-eprime) questions, like: "what are you doing?" or "how are you?".....questions i usually try not to ask, but people often ask in conversation.

not knowing much about verb forms, when i looked online, i found statements like "i'm singing at the open mic tonight" included (it sounds future to me, but oh well....). i could change that to eprime by saying, "i'll sing at the open mic tonight" or "i plan to sing at open mic tonight".

i hope i haven't beaten this topic to death...  :)
i think your earlier examples around raining highlight my issue. if i replace "it is raining" with "rain is falling", i think we can avoid your understandable aversion to "it".

every one of your eprime alternatives feels less concise- and in some cases less clear- to me than "rain is falling".  though in most cases they surely sound more poetic and creative.

but i appreciate that you got me to think a bit more about eprime. i definitely see it as a potentially useful tool at times.
so i did beat it to death!

if i could ask you about the rain one more time though...

if i say "i see rain falling" or "i feel rain falling" instead of "rain is falling" terms of conciseness, i only added one word - the "i"....taking the statement from the objective to subjective. i don't quite understand how that sounds less concise (or less clear).

alternatively, i could say "i see rain" or "i feel rain"....keeping the same number of words as "rain is falling". i don't know how that would make the statement less clear.

perhaps all those ways of speaking just sound unusual (or awkward) to you because people rarely talk that way?

i can remember times when i said "it's raining", and someone walking next to me said "no it isn't"......if i'd said "i feel rain", they'd have a hard time objecting. :)

indeed, those examples in your most recent comment do much better for me. but the examples i was referring to, which seemed far less concise and a bit clumsy (though more expressive), were:

" i see the rain outside"

"i see the rain falling (or splashing)"

"look at the size of those raindrops!"

"look at the rain"

"raindrops keep falling on my head"

"here comes the rain again"

and yes, no doubt you are correct about my inexperience forming sentences that way making it more difficult for me.

i tried to reform that sentence in eprime, and i could not easily come up with a way to say "no doubt you are correct". i'm sure you can, and i'd like to hear an alternative that you would consider to be as concise and clear.

while i do tend to obsess over subjectivity vs objectivity, stressing that (to the point of having to struggle with rewording sentences that come fairly easily to me) around generally accepted aspects of shared reality is just not important to me. my laziness - an aspect of myself i appreciate greatly, in most cases - extends to my written and verbal communication. but that's me, i don't expect anyone else to share my priorities.

eprime has some interesting uses and implications, some of which i hope to absorb into my toolset.

"no doubt you are correct" into "i agree with you"

it doesnt mean exactly the same thing, but if it was exactly the same thing, there would be no point in making a different english.  i think the value of eprime is reducing that veneer of 'objectivity', and the authoritarian mindsets that that can feed.

i am very interested to hear about your obsession with 'subjectivity' and 'objectivity', thought mostly because i am a radical subjectivist and remain incredibly skeptical of the notion of 'objective'.

this is where it becomes especially interesting to me, shinmin. do we aggrandize ourselves by placing ourselves (or some person) in every utterance? to me the issue is less objectivity in the phrase (for example) it is raining, and more the sense that it doesn't (necessarily) have anything to do with me. it is not about me at all.

does positioning things in relation to ourselves over emphasize us or would changing in that way start to mean that we recognize how everyone is big and small in ways?
i dont think that this way of using english involves self aggrandizement, or over emphasises ourself.  i would disagree with you; those statements are absolutely about you.  when we say 'it is raining', i think we really do mean that we perceive rain somehow, not that in some general non-personal way 'it is raining'.  i dont really know how to interpret 'it is raining' without referring to notions about other individuals sense perception.  you cant perceive from outside yourself; anything perceived is /yours/ in that sense.
shin: sorry to say, there is nothing particularly interesting about my "obsession" with subjectivity and objectivity. essentially, i share your healthy skepticism of objectivity, and i think of relations and interactions as some sort of vaguely shared subjective reality. but i do not base this on any philosophical training or understanding. i would describe my perspective as rooted fairly strongly in the idea of "context", which does have some relation to my concept of subjectivity.

i don't even know what "radical subjectivist" means. while i have a surface level understanding of randian "objectivism", i find it just another ideology that seeks to coerce everyone into a single "right" way of thinking/acting/living; one that comes from a strongly economic worldview, no less. i might think the same of "radical subjectivism", i don't know. [a good friend of mine used to promote the idea of "radical honesty", which they eventually tempered due to an increased awareness of the role of context].
as much as i might hate the majority of philosophy, i will defend it by separating ayn rand from any vaguely philosophical discussion.  ayn rands objectivism had nothing to do with any analysis of notions of subjective and objective, but basically just an insistance that her mode of thought was 'correct' and everyone else was just being touchy feely.  basically like if i called an ideology i was espousing 'correctism'.  i will read the engage more in depth when i have made and eaten dinner :)
ok then, i am interested in your idea of 'context'.

also i just googled radical subjectivity to brush because i basically just shoved it in there because of my love of both words and have no idea about any historical context of its useess.  the first link i found was on this forum, which is neato, though i didnt really like the explanation.  basically i just mean i reject the dichotomy of 'subjective' vs 'objective', leading to most people who subscribe to that dichotomy saying i am only interested in subjectivity, which is basically true i guess

i take it back i actually really like the explanation i found there

"ok then, i am interested in your idea of 'context'."

oh fuck, you are actually going to make me think about this? didn't i mention elsewhere about my laziness?

but seriously, that is a good question/point. and i will have to think about it a bit.

so much of how i think/feel/move about in the world seems to flow from the trust i have developed in my ability to make decisions that by and large correlate well with my desires and priorities. (it should go without saying that that is a generalization, and i do still make choices that don't necessarily work as well for me). that trust comes - in part, if not largely - from my capacity to see as much context as possible (or makes sense) in any given situation.

i will hopefully come back with some description of how i see "context".

4 Answers

+1 vote
Color me intrigued.  My initial thought is that using eprime could preclude expressing ideas, concepts and arguments in an essentialist form, or at least make it difficult enough that in order to assign essential attributes to something you'd have to conciously construct a sentence before speaking it, at least in some situations.  Maybe speaking/writing in eprime could help pose a challenge to some unexamined essentialist assumptions.

I don't know, I haven't really thought this through yet.
by (6.3k points)
Yosemite, yes, when speaking eprime, it has helped me to construct sentences in my mind first before speaking. many times, the entire sentence structure changes, and it forces me to really think about what i want to convey and how i want to say it.

i hadn't heard of essentialist form before, but after researching it a little, i tend to agree with you that speaking/writing in eprime about such concepts would become more difficult.
+3 votes
Hey bornagain, I wanted to revamp this discussion since I actually had some thoughts about this (I'll use eprime for fun)

This could have some interesting implications for anarchist writing, because analysis always attempts to say "a=c" like "capitalism is the central theme of our world" or "our social lives are decomposing". Taking away the to be makes these statements less authoritative, even though writing in general acts as an authority (since it expresses content uni-directionally). John Zerzan talks a lot about the problem of saying "a=c rather than letting a be a", if you haven't "running on emptyness" or "free from civilization" I would recommend them since they speak a lot about the problem with language and symbolic representation.
Definitely recommend "Free From Civilization", I helped edit the translation of the section on symbolic culture :-D
haha, that was a great book, mostly an expansion on JZ's thoughts, and i liked his writing style better
hey rick, thanks for the revamp!

i agree with your observations about a=c making things sound authoritarian. i hadn't thought before about how writing in general can act as an authority, but i see your point. with eprime, at least the authority comes off more often as the person making the comment (the author of your own thoughts), rather than as a fact of life decreed by an unknown authority that exists outside of the person.

i read "running on emptiness" at your suggestion and liked it a lot - this one line really spoke to me "the more involved this internal representational system is, the more distanced we are from the reality around us." (like money, for example - my add). you might like to read some of Charles Eisenstein's work, particularly, "the ascent of humanity" which touches on many things that Zerzan did in that article, regarding numbers, lack of using other senses, separation and abstraction, and so on.

I've found that eprime also helps to remove the abstraction of time. when someone says "it was" or "it is", it appears that ideas, people, society, things have a state of permanence, rather than ever-changing qualities. the world "was" this way and now it "is" this way. perhaps when anarchists talk with non-anarchists, one problem becomes this fixation of time - i.e. "capitalism IS the theme...." and both parties end up speaking the same language of abstraction rather than relating experiences and observations and the context in which they occurred. this might tie into another conversation you had in another thread (sorry, can't remember it right now) where you discussed how anti-authoritarian views can contain some of the same qualities of authoritarian views.

i'll check out "free from civilization" nexts. thanks for the suggestions and the conversation.
haha, yes this is the terrain of behemoth we are talking about, much larger than the terrain of lerviathan! The realm of thought policing is to me is of great interest, it teaches us why physically fighting physical authorities 99.999999% of the time does absolutely nothing effective
agreed, the beast behind (and beneath) the beast!

i haven't found Free From Civilization on the internet anywhere yet...ALC, rick, or anyone else, i'd appreciate a link if you have preferred., i think LBC is the only distributor that prints it. It's around 300 pages long and is really well researched and written in a more precise manner than JZ's work. Quite an ambitious work, i really enjoyed it.
+3 votes
Logged in for the first time in a year just to mention that I've used e-prime/e-primitive in all of my formal writing for about 6 years now and really loved the challenge it has provided me, and the way it clarifies thinking.
by (8.9k points)
hi ALC, nice to know you're still around (even if mostly lurking)!
what are your formal writings? You've got to tell me now that you say you used e-prime/e-primitive!
ALC, thanks for your answer and for logging in at the prompt of my question. i appreciate it. if you feel inclined, i'd like to hear more of your experiences of writing this way and what challenges and benefits you received as a result...and any impact it might have had on your practice of anarchy.
+1 vote

i feel so excited right now, im twitching!  i dislike the attempt to impose timelessness on the world, eprime seems like it might help to remove a lot of this from speech.  i like to try -and fail, mostly- to relate to things as they are now and as the seem to me directly.  everyday i grow more hateful of abstractions.  i was skeptical of eprime as i dislike rules in general, but then i read a criticism of eprime that read 

  1. A civilization advances when it can move from the idea of individual trees to that of forest. E-Prime tends to make the expression of higher orders of abstraction more difficult, e.g. "She is a student" is rendered in E-Prime, e.g., as "She attends classes at the university".
and i almost screamed.
i also go after 'is' a lot in my ramblings, but had never heard of eprime until i noticed @dot mention it in a couple of comments.

that said, i didnt write this in eprime, i tried to write it as i would usually write, though no doubt i was influenced by eprime.  i wonder if the blanket ban on 'to be' is as useful as selective removal?  are there perhaps other things that might be done to make the use of our language more thoughtful?

for instance; how would you render 'i am twitching!' in eprime?
or 'i was influenced by the idea of eprime'?  
for some reason uses of 'to be' in reference to myself dont necessarily seem to provoke the same negative reaction in me as others uses do.  i wonder if you have any thoughts on this?

by (2.1k points)
Sms.....yeah, "to be" functions a few different ways in language. some ways lead more to absolutes and abstractions, while others mostly imply tense ("i'm twitching" - although, did you twitch as you wrote it? you could say "my legs and arms just twitched, or keep twitching, or twitched several times, i twitch(ed) as i wrote, etc. - basically, more verb and action oriented, more descriptive). so i've tried mostly to eliminate the former. i read an article on this which went into a lot of detail about it....i'll see if i can find it and post it here.

mainly, i like that i tend to slow down when i write this way and think more deeply about what i want to say, even if i still use "to be" here and there....when speaking in eprime, i really need to slow down (which helps if you don't want to say things like "that's so stupid!").

so i look at it like not so much as a rule, but as a way to more creatively and descriptively say what i see, sense, think, a way to slow down or unscramble certain patterns that i think don't serve me well, and to not turn my perceptions into "what is".

okay, your sentence "i was influenced by the idea of eprime" could say:

- the idea of eprime influenced me (and you could add how, in what ways, and why it influenced you)

- i feel influenced by the idea of eprime

- after hearing about the idea of eprime, i gave more thought to how i write and speak.

- last week i heard about eprime, and it influenced my writing.

edit: i just noticed you probably meant in reference to your sentence in your answer. in that case you could have written "no doubt the idea of eprime influenced me", or "no doubt i felt the influence of the idea of eprime" (although that sounds a little clunkier to me).

edit: (removed the stuff about "she's a student" felt unnecessary later)

like anything else, if i try to eliminate "to be" as an absolute rule, i can feel restricted or i try to keep in mind that i choose to use it as a tool to help me communicate clearly and creatively and contextually......increasing my awareness of when it helps toward that end, or  not.

yes! i absolutely agree :) sorry i should have been more clear, that criticism made me waaaaay more receptive to the ideas of e-prime, which is impressive since i already liked it!  none of that was clear in my original post however, so perhaps i would benefit from the slow down too

also i didnt twitch, i lied to try and express just how excited eprime made me feel.  well i i didnt twitch more than usual anyway.
oh no, you burst my image of a disembodied twitch-fest!

but i feel excited about your excitement.....despite only reading letters and words on a flat screen.....