E-Prime: The Invented Language That Has No Verb To Be

To be or not to be ... is not a question in the invented language of E-Prime. TopTenz explains:

Another language constructed to make a philosophical point, E-Prime is simply a version of English that forbids all forms of the verb ‘to be’ (is, was, were, etc).

According to Alfred Korzybski, who promoted the language in his 1933 book Science and Sanity, E-Prime can be used to sharpen critical thinking and make ideas clearer. For example, in E-prime a person can’t say ‘This is an awful movie’: it must be rephrased as ‘I dislike this movie.’ ‘You’re wrong’ is also impossible: instead he must say ‘I disagree with you.’ Because of this, it’s easier for speakers and listeners distinguish fact from opinion.

On the other hand, following E-Prime to the letter becomes burdensome: ‘This is a flower’ must become something like ‘English speakers call this a flower.’ Today, E-Prime remains popular, but mostly just as an interesting thought exercise to improve clarity.

Read more about the Top 10 Invented Languages: Link


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What is important about E-Prime is that it reflects old languages that didn't have the verb "to be", as for example ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. This caused some scholars to retranslate the Holy Bible in E-Prime. It is frequently overlooked that much modern language was simply not available to our distant ancestors. For example; the term "Personal" was not in-use prior to Tertullian (c. 160 - 220 A.D.) Therefor the ancient texts, like those of Sumer and the Israelites, should not be expected to distinguish between Personal and Impersonal. Nor should they be expected to reflect a modern usage of the verb "to-be", in-fact it is possible that at least some of their texts aimed at giving birth to some of these distinctions. One might take Yahweh's infamous proclamation "I AM THAT I AM" to be a statement of the verb "to-be". This is given some further credence by the lack of words like "existence", "being", "reality" and so forth. We probably don't see a clear account of this until Anselm's Ontological Proof and the Universal Set-theory (c. 1033 A.D.) The usage of "reality" to refer to the universal set only dates back to the 1640s. The term "existence" wasn't in use until the 14th century.

All of this seems to indicate that there was no concept of a set to contain all sets, or terms that refer to a universal set or the bare fact of existing. These were not common ideas at the time these texts were written. But they may have been ideas which the texts attempt to describe in different ways.
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No, it isn't. Not like Esperanto or Klingon or something. It's a subset of English that forgoes the present and past-tense "to be" verbs. "Will" and "shall" are the only means English has to express future tense, so e-prime keeps those.
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I did my master's thesis on e-prime, and I spent a year writing columns for the student newspaper and other stuff (including my thesis) in e-prime. It was a bit of a headache at first, but once I got used to it there was no problem. My friends hadn't even noticed; it didn't make my writing stilted or excessively wordy.

E-prime makes you take responsibility for what you say. Rather than saying, "He's a jerk," you have to explain why you dislike the person in question.

Having been away from academe for more than two decades, though, I've gotten out of practice.
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