Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, October 18, 2004

E-Prime

from Anxiety Culture

"Whatever you say a thing is, it isn’t"
– Alfred Korzybski

English Prime, or E-prime for short, arose out of General Semantics. It looks like standard English, but with the words "is", "are", "was", "would be" (and other cognates of "is") removed. Removing the "is" (of identity) from language effectively eradicates metaphysical statements about what things "really are".

For example, the sentence: "Fred is a commie" would appear in E-Prime as something like: "I regard Fred as a commie". E-Prime expresses what we perceive and think about things, rather than what things "really are".

E-Prime makes sense when applied to science – eg the argument over whether an electron "really is" a wave or a particle:

Standard English:
"The electron is a particle"
"The electron is a wave"

E-Prime:
"The electron appears as a particle to instrument A"
"The electron appears as a wave to instrument B"

The two standard English statements contradict, whereas the E-Prime statements seem complementary. E-Prime makes sense of emotional "human" issues too:

"That film is sexist" (standard English)
"That film seems sexist to me" (E-Prime)

With standard English, debates often degenerate into hysterical "Yes, it is!", "No it isn’t!!" type arguments (monkey metaphysics). E-Prime seems to avoid this.

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