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How Eliminating ‘To Be’ Verbs Can Change Your Viewpoint in Business

Instead, embrace E-Prime to get unstuck.

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Forty five years ago, the linguist David Bourland published a controversial paper suggesting we do away with the verb “to be” and all of its associated forms (is, are, am, were, etc). Under this syntactic regime, you wouldn’t be able to construct sentences such as “My customers are stupid,” “My groomers are lazy” or “I am a failure.” Bourland argued that such phrasing implies certainty and objectivity, when in reality it expresses nothing more than an opinion. Restating it in what he called E-Prime — “I feel like a failure” or “I have failed at this task” or “I think my groomers are lazy” — makes such thoughts feel limited, temporary and addressable. Try it for a day or even just for the duration of your morning meeting. You may find it changes the way you view certain situations, or just pleasantly liberates you from the power of language over your thoughts and emotions.

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