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  1. Newbie
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    • Join Date: Jan 2009
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    to be or not to be

    In the past, I've had professors tell me to clear my papers of weak "to be" verbs. From this, I gathered that I should not write sentences like "He is going to be a fireman". However, would sentences like such "I want to be a fireman" also fall in this category? Isn't "want" the verb? If I am incorrect, how would I change this sentence? more importantly, can someone give me a rule about "to be" verbs and guidance on how to correct them?
    thank you

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    • Join Date: Jan 2009
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    Re: to be or not to be

    Some examples of weak "to be's":

    I consider him to be a good person.
    He was considered a good person. <-- Passive voice. By whom? specify and make active.
    Confusion is the result of the needless multiplication of unnecessary thoughts. --> also too many nouns. Unnecessary thoughts, needlessly multiplied, result in confusion.
    A classic:
    Consumer demand is dropping in the sector of major-label music.
    -->The major music labels are selling less of their product.

    "To be" itself is rarely the problem; it is the rest of the sentence. To see why, do a simple exercise: write one paragraph (five long sentences) where the only verb is "to be". No -ing words, no -eds, nothing. You can always do that, and if you do, you'll see what your prof means.

    There is a form of writing called E-Prime that disallows all forms of the verb to be. That approach is probably flawed, and surely excessive. But if you are told that you overuse "to be", you may want to consider it, at least as an exercise. Don't get carried away, though.

    One book I would strongly recommend to improve your writing style is the Complete Stylist and Handbook by Sheridan Baker. It's old (1984), but it really helped me.


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