Re: E-Prime

Subject: Re: E-Prime
From: Jim Venis <ujv01 -at- MAILHOST -dot- UNIDATA -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 11 Feb 1994 09:11:18 CST

Stan Andermann writes:
> This technique seems interesting since there's always a more
> expressive word to use in place of "to be". However, the
> passive voice should be mastered, not slaughtered. Where
> would we be without the line in _Death of a Salesman_
> "Respect will be given!" That's passive voice used at its
> ultimate excellence!!

> Like any technique, E-Prime seems to have some good aspects
> and benefits. It also has some faults. Let's not rid the
> prose we write of either the verb "to be" or the passive
> voice. Instead, let's use them intelligently instead of
> abundantly.

I call E-Prime a "discipline," not a set of laws. And I think you can
apply the discipline with discretion--many E-Prime advocates use more
and less restrictive E-Prime variations in their writing and other
communication. (The core of E-Prime seems to eschew the "is of identity"
and the "is of predication." It does not ban other uses, such as the use
of "is" as a helping verb.)

I have never advocated stripping tools from writers, and I view passive
voice as a tool. I have not, however, found a way to write an E-Prime
passive. If you can, please post it--I'd like to know!

Many people seem to want to treat E-Prime as a stylistic issue. It
certainly has stylistic effects, but E-Prime primarily affects logic. It
promotes a non-Aristotelian, multi-valued logic that--in the view of its
advocates--more accurately reflects what we know of the world.

As you have pointed out, translating liturature into E-Prime does not
work. I agree, although doing that as an exercise facinates me. What
would translating the Declaration of Independence into E-Prime
accomplish? Nothing, really, but you might want to try it for grins.

As for your suggestion about intelligence over abundance--well said! I
couldn't agree more. But perhaps you will try E-Prime as a means to that
end. Some suggestions I found helpful include:

1. Refer to the basic "silent level" experience and describe the actual
event. You can revise "I am fine" to "I feel fine."

2. Bring your statement down to earth by removing hidden assumptions.
You can revise "Linda is helpful" to "Linda helped me."

3. Replace "is" with an action verb. You can revise "David is a doctor"
to "David practices medicine."

4. Say what you mean. You can revise "Is Lee there?" to "May I speak
with Lee?"

5. Change the sentence from passive to active voice. You can revise
"Jack was blessed" to "The Pope blessed Jack."

Please let me know if you try these and how they work for you. Let me
know also if you find some other helpful ideas.

--Jim Venis ujv01 -at- unidata -dot- com Denver, Colo.

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