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To Boldly Split Infinitives

Never split an infinitive

There are many rules of grammar we are taught in childhood that stick with us when we become adults. We may not remember the why, but we remember the what.


But not all rules are really rules. Some are misremembered. Some mistaught. Others misapplied.


They stay in our minds and colour how we use language through life. How we use language incorrectly.


These are:


The Seven Sins of Syntax

The Sin


The infinitive is the verb form used when talking about the action itself, not the action when in action. Simply put, it is a verb preceded by the word ‘to.’


The infinitive of I go, he goes, we are going, etc., is ‘to go.’


The infinitive of I’m explaining, she explains, it is explained, etc., is ‘to explain.’


The sin of splitting an infinitive is when you place an adverb between the ‘to’ and the verb.


An infamous example, remembered by most people of a certain generation, is heard in the original Star Trek TV series. In the opening sequence, we hear Captain James T Kirk repeat Starfleet Enterprise's mission “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”


To be a fan of both grammar and science fiction was to lead a life of contradiction in the 1970s.


Not So Sinful


Like the sin of the dangling preposition, this rule is a hangover from our language’s Latin heritage. In Latin, infinitives are single words. It is therefore impossible to split an infinitive without chopping up the word. Something nobody would even consider.


But in English, we have two words for an infinitive. To split an infinitive in English would not have the same effect as it would in Latin. The rule is rendered irrelevant to language as we use it.


Some argue even though the English infinitive uses two separate words, the ‘to’ is an integral part of the verb form. For this reason, they believe the rule must be followed.


This illogical reasoning is clearly poppycock.


At least to anyone who can count.


Committing More Sins


There is no rule here to break. The important thing is to ensure the verb being modified is clear in your sentence.


For example, splitting the infinitives in:


To really know someone is to really love someone.


makes more sense than:


To know someone really is to love someone really.


Provided the intent of your sentence is clear, worries about splitting the infinitive shouldn't force you to awkwardly rewrite it. Or to rewrite it awkwardly.


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