Avoiding 'to be' Jan 14, 2023 23:01:38 GMT -6
Post by ScintillaMyntan on Jan 14, 2023 23:01:38 GMT -6
Has anyone ever advised you to cut back on 'to be' verbs? And do you take the advice?
My high school English teacher required that we use no more than three 'to be' words — 'is,' 'am,' 'that's,' 'we're,' and so on — in a single paper, claiming it would help us use more active voice and stronger verbs. Even then, I didn't know why it counted as 'to be' if you say something like "they are going," because there it just functions as part of the verb tense, doesn't it? It doesn't really suggest existence like other forms of the word.
I've recently learned that some people write and speak in 'E-Prime,' meaning they go without 'to be.' (And this very post uses E-Prime, except in quotation marks where I talk about the word itself, unless I've slipped up somewhere). Sure enough, one of the criticisms listed in the Wikipedia article says 'be' has a lot of functions and it might not make sense to eliminate all of them. Apparently the proponents claim E-Prime prevents you from speaking too forcefully about the qualities of things, requires you to specify who did something, stops you from generalizing, and helps you see psychological problems as temporary and gives you agency: "I feel depressed" instead of "I am depressed."
I do find that rather convincing. People put so much focus on identity these days; I've stressed out too much about my identity or what this or that says about me. Generally, it would lead to a less rigid way of thinking if we said "I do" instead of "I am," "they do" instead of "they are."
I've recently decided to start avoiding 'to be' just when I describe myself in bios and such, and when I describe people in stories, like when the character first shows up and I introduce them. I'd probably still use it as a linking verb, like before -ing words.
So far, I've noticed it can get awkward to word things in E-Prime. This post probably sounds contrived. Certainly you'd sound off if you talked this way out loud. I've also run into the problem that I can't say my gender without saying something like "I identify as female," which might accidentally give people the impression that I don't identify with my birth gender.