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Grammar Mishaps: Split Infinitives by Besthubs


What is a split infinitive and is it grammatically correct? A guide with definitions and examples.

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									                                                                                                                     20/09/2011 03:33
                                                                                                                               by Robin

                Grammar Mishaps: Split Infinitives

                rate or flag this pageTweet                                                       Definition

                                                                             Infinitive: an infinitive is the basic part of a verb,
                                                                             e.g., to dance, to sing, to play, to go.

                                                                             Split infinitive: a split infinitive occurs when an
                                                                             infinitive (to dance, to sing, to play, to go) is split in
                                                                             two by an adverb (a word that modifies the verb).
                                                                             For example:

                                                                                •   to horribly sing
                                                                                •   to aggressively play
                                                                                •   to boldly go
                                                                                •   (The infinitives are in bold and the adverbs
                                                                                    are underlined.)

                                                                                       What do the experts say?
                Original Star Trek Cast
                                                                             The American Heritage Book of English Usage:
                    To Boldly Go Where No Man Has                            A Practical and Authoritative Guide to Contem-
                              Gone Before                                    porary English

                I received an email regarding split infinitives. Our         Fifty percent of grammarians on the American He-
                fellow Hubber wrote: Will you write a Hub on split           ritage panel believe that the split infinitive is okay,
                infinitives? «I think they’re okay; a friend of mine         the other half do not. The majority do agree that
                insists they’re not. We decided to let you settle the        more than one adverb in between an infinitive is
                score.»                                                      not advised. Here is their example, «We are seeking
                                                                             a plan to gradually, systematically, and economically
                What pressure! In this Hub, I’ll give you the basics;        relieve the burden.» They do not like the use of this
                tell you what the experts say; give you my two cents;        split infinitive.
                and then let you decide.
                                                                             The Columbia Guide to Standard American English
                One of the most famous split infinitives is the Star

                Trek saying, «To boldly go where no man has gone             This organization advises a writer to be weary of
                before». First, let’s start off with a definition of split   using split infinitives unless it decreases ambiguity.
                infinitive, then we’ll analyze the Star Trek statement       They use the example of these three sentences:
                and see if it’s grammatically correct.
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                                                                                                                   20/09/2011 03:33

                Grammar Mishaps: Split Infinitives

                The driver is instructed periodically to check the             • To gracefully dance is an art form. (An
                oil level                                                        awkward split infinitive sentence.)
                                                                               • To dance gracefully is an art form. (Gram-
                The driver is instructed to periodically check the               matically correct and better sounding.)
                oil level.
                                                                            Last note: English grammar is incredibly dynamic.
                The driver is instructed to check the oil level pe-         Grammarians disagree with one another on a consis-
                riodically.                                                 tent basis. This is evident when English usage panels
                                                                            are split on correct usages. In some of my hubs I have
                Do you know which sentence is the split infinitive?         had comments disagreeing with my explanations or
                The second sentence is the split infinitive because         usage. This is absolutely fine; I just love the dialogue.
                «periodically» is splitting the infinitive «to check».      I’m sorry if I didn’t settle the disagreement in the
                Although, the second sentence is the split infinitive, it   original email, but I hope I was able to shed a bit of
                is the most unambiguous; is the driver told to check        light on the subject. (And educate a few of you on
                the oil periodically, or is he physically checking the      what a split infinitive actually is.;)) Please feel free
                oil periodically. In this example, they believe the         to use the comment box if you want to leave your
                split infinitive is the best choice.                        two cents.

                Ask Oxford-The Oxford Dictionary

                The Oxford Dictionary calls split infinitives a myth.
                They believe they are «poor style» but not gramma-
                tically incorrect.

                                  What I think...
                For many years grammarians have noted that split
                infinitives are incorrect. Their reasoning: in Latin
                an infinitive is one word, thus splitting it would be
                incorrect. However, although our language is based
                in Latin, it is not Latin, and in English an infinitive
                is two words.

                I think split infinitives are okay if used with caution.
                In the Star Trek statement, «To boldly go where no
                man has gone before,» the sentence would not have
                the same effect if it were worded differently. E.g.,
                «To go boldly where no man has gone before,» or

                «To go where no man has gone before boldly». These
                last two sentences just don’t have the same effect.

                But beware: In some instances, the split infinitive
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                makes a sentence sound awkward.


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