Is ePrime more than just a “semantic game”?

Posted by Rex Alexander on Thu 28 Mar 24 in ePrime, General Semantics, Uncategorized |


Someone recently wrote something to the effect that he embraces the principle of ePrime, but does not use it in ordinary conversation because it often sounds peculiar and therefore might alienate the other person.




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True enough! That is pretty much what I do, and I suspect is the reason that after experimenting with ePrime in some of his early writing, Dr. Ellis abandoned it,  and why the revised editions of “New Guide to Rational Living” reverted to Standard English.

However, consider the following:

1. You’re an asshole!
2. You never keep appointments.
3. I feel disappointed that you missed our appointment and the previous two as well.

Clearly #1 is a no-no. It uses the “to be” verb as well as global rating.

#2 is possibly superior to #1 in that it is at least talking about something tangible, about behavior, about missed appointments rather than simply downing the global or essential self of the other person. However, where  it falls apart is using the vacuous word “never.” Clearly not only an exaggeration, but simply untrue. If we leave it at “never” not only are we functioning in the Twilight Zone, but we rob ourselves and the other person of the opportunity to discuss the problem constructively and intelligently. When exactly is it that the other person misses appointments? Is it only with me? Is it with another or others as well?  Is there something about me he or she prefers to avoid? Are the appointments in the early mornings and  the other person does not function optimally at that hour? Is it only when it is time to discuss taxes? Is it because there is some disturbance in the other person’s life distracting him or her from keeping appointments? Is the other person giving me a passive-aggressive, “crazy making” message (e.g., “I want to meet with you-I don’t want to meet with you”)? Or does the other person have some serious behavioral problems in terms of commitment, procrastination and time management?

The answer is that until we know for sure, we just don’t know what it is, and #1 and #2 rob us and the other person of communicating meaningfully about it, solving the problem, negotiating a compromise and gaining greater intimacy.

Surprise!  ePrime is the path to greater intimacy, not greater intellectuality!

#3 is the best of the three. It avoids any use of the “to be” verb.

  It expresses the thought as “I” thus taking personal responsibility and ownership of it rather than justifying and giving it phony authority by evoking a principle or an abstraction (e.g., One must never be late!).

Finally, it expresses an authentic feeling (disappointment) which immediately makes the communication richer, more authentic and intimate. In the jargon of Transactional Analysis, the conversation operates on the level of adult-adult, rather than parent-child or adult-child.


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The important thing, and the take away for this post is that “I feel disappointed that you missed our appointment and the previous two as well” doesn’t sound “funny.” No one would know that you are “using ePrime on them!” It is exactly like “real English.”

Humanists teach us to avoid using #1 & #2 because–paraphrasing fairly loosely here–because it isn’t “nice.” It isn’t ethical. It is unkind. It is in bad taste. It is poor manners.   It’s not “healthy.” But they don’t teach us why and how it is unhealthy. If we just frame it as an ethical question, it tells us little we don’t already know and leads nowhere. However, this is a  64 dollar question, and one that ePrime can readily answer in a meaningful and powerful and satisfying way.

General Semanticists teaches us that labels such as “asshole” as well as the entire set of positive and negative globalizations we apply to our self and to the self of others simply do not exist.  “Huh?” you say. So help me, Hannah! They are not real. There just are just no such such things as assholes (except in the vulgar anatomical sense),  failures, idiots, bitches, bastards, impotent jerks, nice guys, brainiacs, queens, fags, nerds, scoundrels, troopers, stand up guys, successes, hunks . . . This set of exaggerations, higher order abstractions, globalizations is a large one, with certain terms going in and out of fashion culturally and historically, familiar terms change meaning or lose meaning, and new ones are being invented all the time. The crucial issue is that these globalizations attack the core essence of identify of the other person (and/or of your self  if directed at yourself).  Usually directly attacking the basic worth or value of the person or other essential qualities  such as intelligence, sexuality, “character,” and so on. What all of them reduce to their essence boil down to is that the person is a bad person. When we use them as global labels “John is a failure,” we are saying that John is 100% a failure, has always been a failure, and probably will never be anything but a failure. Clearly this is hugely inaccurate, not to mention unhelpful, and–which brings us to our next proposition–hurtful .  Why do you suppose it is hurtful?

REBT teaches us that when we “rate” a person, it inflames our anger and contempt, creates a false sense of superiority, and causes us to behave toward the person in unhelpful and dysfunctional ways.  When we rate our self, it provokes guilt, shame and self-loathing.  The so called ‘”self-esteem” thing.

ePRIME a special form or a subset of English that eliminates all forms of the verb “to be.” It is not a philosophy, but rather is a tool that makes it much more difficult for us to exaggerate, generalize, label, and rate. If used in a disciplined way, it almost forces us to say #3:

“I feel disappointed that you missed our appointment and the previous two as well”  

Therefore, it facilitates the the  Humanist,  person-centered, General Semantics, and REBT approaches beautifully and powerfully. This simple semantic device forces specificity and honesty and taking personal responsibility.   It forces us to be more authentic in our communication with others and to take responsibility for our opinions and feelings rather than making accusations, judgments and evaluations, and then doing the magic trick of blaming those opinions on some external, highfalutin, abstract idea.

So, anytime you

speak authentically, take responsibility for your feelings, opinions and judgments,

speak in specifics, and

focus on behavior rather than “self”


you are indeed using ePrime whether you know it or not, whether the other person knows it or not, or whether you call it ePrime or not. In this context, ePrime helps us to use the principles of Humanism, General Semantics and REBT to get richer, more intimate more authentic relationships.

And you thought this was “just a matter of  semantics!”


You may also enjoy  Toward Understanding E-Prime

Warm regards,

Khon Kaen, Thailand


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Originally posted 2012-12-31 03:20:25.

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