Monday, August 03, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: To Be and Me, Me, Me

Face it; people love to talk about themselves. The to be verbs allow us to do so with ease. The Chicago Manual of Style notes that individuals use the to be verb as a linking verb "that connects the subject with something affirmed about the subject." This form gives us the chance to discuss that special subject in depth. You can establish a need {I am hungry}. You can proclaim your own greatness {I am AWESOME!}. You can even use it to praise someone else {He is so dreamy}. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
According to Chicago, there are two other very special uses for the eight forms of the to be verbs (is, are, was, were, been, being, be, and am). Chapter 5 states, "it is sometimes a sentence's principal verb meaning "exist" {I think, therefore I am}." After all, what better way to stroke one's ego than to ponder the beauty of our very existence? You can also use it as an auxiliary verb {I was born under that bridge yonder}. Depending on the information, this could be a great conversation starter. When teaming up with a verb's present participle the to be verb has the power to indicate "continuing or progressive action" {I was working out everyday to tone my fantastic abs}. Of course, you may find a bit more humility goes a long way. Your choice.

Buyer beware: when joining the to be verb with a past participle you are entering passive voice territory {your phone was broken}. When you find yourself caught in the realm of passivity, always ask who or what is doing the action so the sentence "can be advantageously changed to active voice" {I broke your phone}. What's that you say? This might put your favorite subject in a bad light? Keep it honest, keep it active. Then you can talk about yourself all you want, and people may just keep listening!

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