Elimination of "to be."

I read about it in a Joel Auchenbach book (“Why Things Are…” series). A lierary movement to eliminate this form of english. What do you guys know about it?

Actually, it sounds like a good discipline to know. Kind of a non-agressive assertiveness that gets the point across.

Tell me all you know.

Rewrite this post as an example.

What are we getting rid of here? The verb “to be” entirely (am, are, is, will, shall, was, were), just phrase “to be” (rendering Shakespeare’s most famous line “or not”), or some specific use of that verb or phrase?

“To be” entirely.

I’m not sure, but maybe you’re talking about the common desire to avoid the ‘passive voice.’ In other words, rather than saying “He was running,” say “He ran.” A lot of people think that the second form expresses more conviction, while the first one is sort of watered down.

If you own Microsoft Word and keep the grammar checker on, you’ll see the green zigzag underline whenever you use the passive voice, because it is supposed to be particularly avoided in business writing.

I don’t think anyone wants to actually eliminate be verbs, or even just the passive voice. They just would like to see it used less often.

(By the way, you’ll notice that I use the passive voice a lot, like in this sentence.)

My entire sophomore year of high school, we were not allowed to use any form of “be” in any of our writings for English class. The main point was to get us to write “actively” rather than passively. Although, sometimes, a form of “be” is just what you need. It also caused somewhat of a backlash as you can see–how many times have I used one in this post alone? :wink:

Thankfully the English language here in America is the sole property of the citizens to add to and change as we see fit. I loved it when a Senator used the term ‘dis’ on Nightline when talking about Jeffords.

And personally I would rather read a paper based more on what people say then clinical English.

[comp teacher hat ON]

Actually, neither of those sentences is in passive voice. Passive voice is not the same as a past participle. Think of it this way.

If the subject of the sentence is the person or thing performing the main action, the sentence is in active voice:

He was running.
The chicken dive-bombed the shark.

If the action is being done TO the subject of the sentence, the sentence is in passive voice:

He was being run at.
The shark was dive-bombed by the chicken.

[/comp teacher hat OFF]

Hey, I kind of like the idea of ‘Hamlet’ Yoda-style.

A lot of languages get by without any form of “to be” (copula). Take Tagalog for instance:

Maganda mo - you (are) beautiful

Of course, passivity doesnt exist per say in Tagalog, but the object trigger (and other patient triggers) kind of handles it (verbal trigger systems are a lot to explain, so dont ask unless you want me to try my best to describe it…and i’m no linguist):

So, “Hugasan mo ang kotse” means roughly: “You wash the car”, or “The car was washed by you”

But back to the OP, i’ve heard that “to be” is used so much it results in lazy speech. Getting rid of it makes people think a little more about what they are saying. So i’ve heard.

[Copyeditor hat ON]

AAAAAAUUUUGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!! Please, folks, don’t use grammar checkers. They are worse than useless. Spell-check is OK, but always have a HUMAN BEING check your writing, not a machine. Doesn’t seem a good idea to put Bill Gates in charge of the English language.

Sorry, no passive there either. Passive would be “It will be noticed by you that the passive voice is used by me . . .” In the original, each subject is doing the action of the verb – active voice, not passive.

[Copyeditor hat OFF]

Getting rid of the passive voice is often a good idea, but that’s not what the OP is asking. At least, I don’t believe so, since I’ve also heard of it from a friend, who called English, without the verb of being, E2. Unlike eliminating the passive voice, eliminating all forms of “be” often requires you to say something slightly different, rather than rephrase what you already said. As an example, here is my post so far rewritten:

Sorry, I would have done the OP, but you used two sentence fragments, which would have been tricky to rework. Also, I do not believe that this idea is the same as what Doobieous mentions. It looks like in Tagalog, the verb of being is implied, which is not really the same thing as absent. I agree that using this form of writing causes people to think about their speech more, but it also makes it somewhat more difficult to say certain things that should be easy to say.

To help you out with the passive voice, I’ll rewrite the whole thing again, using a lot of passives:

Gee, you mean PA was AHEAD of the curve, for once:


Somebody once said that the Pittsburgh version of Hamlet’s Soliloquy would open with “or not”. I now return you to your serious discussion. I’ll be over here in passive voice.

This should be “Maganda ka”. It could also be written as “Ikaw ay maganda”, though that construction sounds a bit stilted. Still, both forms are correct, and either may be used depending on what one wishes to emphasize:
[li] Maganda ka - You are beautiful.[/li][li] Ikaw ay maganda - You are beautiful.[/li][/ul]

This is what I believe is called the imperative mood - it’s a command to wash the car. The more polite form is “Pakihugas mo ang kotse” - “Please wash the car”.

[li] Ikaw ay naghugas ng kotse - You washed the car.[/li][li] Hinugasan mo ang kotse - The car was washed by you.[/li][/ul]
The second statement is the preferred construction.

I don’t know about this. I had to think about that last pair of examples. It seems that the passive voice is actually preferred in certain instances.

IANALinguist (but IAAFilipino).

You have all missed the mark so far. The OP asked about the elimination of be in all tenses, persons, and conjugations from the language entirely. I have the answer to your question: E-Prime.

Korzybski’s “General Semantics” movement invented E-Prime, which is what they call the English language with the verb be removed. The General Semantics philosophy insists on the difference between a thing and the representation of that thing. Since people use be to make representations, they trick themselves into the identification of a thing with its representation, and General Semantics rejects that identification. Thus, if you get rid of be you’ll stop tricking yourself. Korzybski taught that instead of saying “X is Y” you should say “X seems to me Y”, for example.

A. E. Van Vogt, a science fiction author who subscribed to General Semantics, wrote a bunch of novels about the “World of Non-A” (non-Aristotelian)—but I don’t remember him using E-Prime to write a whole book.

[sub]As you may have noticed, I carefully wrote this whole post in E-Prime, except that you have to cite the verb be to explain what you seek to get rid of![/sub]

And we all know how movements to reform language are wildly successful. . . .

Quoth Jomo Mojo: “which is what they call the English language with the verb be removed.”

How can you claim that this clause does not use a form of the verb be?

“[ Some folks ] invented E-prime, which they defined as the english language with the verb be removed.”
The example I read once referred to the following dialogue between a parent and a child:

“Mommy, look at that big animal!”
“We call that big animal an ‘elephant’, honey.”

Instead of “That IS an elephant.”

Me, I think I possess enough powers of comprehension to understand this latter phrase to mean “That is called an elephant.” GS Seems like a waste of time to me. YMMV.

I don’t like your first example. I’m not even sure what “He was being run at.” means. In order to turn a sentence into passive voice, you need a transitive verb. The verb to run, as used in your first sentence, has no object. How about:

He was running the race. active voice
The race was being run (by him). passive voice

The subject of a sentence in passive voice is the object of the action.

The purpose of passive voice is to put the empahsis on the object of the action and de-emphasize or remove the person or thing actually doing the action. Sometimes passive voice is better at expressing what I mean. “I was robbed.” is passive voice; the active voice sentence would be “Someone robbed me.” I want the emaphsis on me not on the robber.

I’ve noticed that MS Word warns me every time I use passive voice. It annoys me, but I just click ignore and continue. I know passive voice and how to use it.

Hel-LO. If you’ll just read to the end of my post, you’ll find my disclaimer:

Hello, I wasn’t talking about the word “be”. I was talking about the word “is”:

“…which is what they call the English language…”

The word “is” here clearly (at least, I thought it was clear) acts as the predicate of this clause.