Especially for John, who asked about split infinitives in the comment section of the last post. For those who don’t know what a split infinitive is, it’s pretty simple. It’s when someone splits a verb phrase, most often with an adverb, that uses the word “to”, such as “to go”. A rather well known example of a split infinitive, often used as an example, is from Star Trek: to boldly go. Because the adverb has been inserted into the infinitive verb phrase “to go” the phrase is now considered split. But now imagine the writes followed the “old” rule of not using split infinitives and instead said “to go boldly where no man has gone before” It doesn’t have the same ring to it as “to boldly go”, partly because it’s what we’re used to and partly because…it just doesn’t!

Now, this is just my opinion, but in editing, I don’t correct split infinitives unless they’re used repeatedly or they sound overly awkward to my ear (or when I read them aloud–I use reading aloud as the deciding factor in awkward sentences, lol).

I know some people who insist that split infinitives never be used, but again, that’s a rather rigid way of looking at things and if nothing else has been proven, it’s that the English language is incredibly fluid (though the people who cannot abide alright as a word would beg to differ!)

But again, since I never expect anyone to take my word for it, I looked to the Chicago Manual of Style for a second opinion. They said:

Q. Hello Grammar Goddesses, After looking through all my style guides (including CMOS, of course), I now know not to split my infinitives but have yet to find some examples of such. Please offer a few juicy examples of correct and incorrect text. Thanks so much and keep up the good work! Grammar Geekess in Portland, OR

A. Dear Grammar Geekess, CMOS has not, since the thirteenth edition (1983), frowned on the split infinitive. The fifteenth edition now suggests, to take one example, allowing split infinitives when an intervening adverb is used for emphasis (see paragraphs 5.106 and 5.160). In this day and age, it seems, an injunction against splitting infinitives is one of those shibboleths whose only reason for survival is to give increased meaning to the lives of those who can both identify by name a discrete grammatical, syntactic, or orthographic entity and notice when that entity has been somehow besmirched. Many such shibboleths—the en dash, for example—are worthy of being held onto. But why tamper with such sentences as the following?

Its five-year mission is to explore new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

His first thought, when something went wrong, was to immediately hit the escape key—even when he was nowhere near a computer.

It seems to me that, at least given these two examples, euphony or emphasis or clarity or all three can be improved by splitting the infinitive in certain situations. It’s one of the advantages of a language with two-word infinitives. One might observe, for that matter, that English infinitives are always split—by a space. Sincerely, Editor (grammar god [or more probably warlock], filling in for the goddesses)

Although from about 1850 to 1925 many grammarians stated otherwise, it is now widely acknowledged that adverbs sometimes justifiably separate the to from the principal verb {they expect to more than double their income next year}

And sometimes it is perfectly appropriate to split an infinitive verb with an adverb to add emphasis or to produce a natural sound. See 5.106. A verb’s infinitive or to form is split when an intervening word immediately follows to {to bravely assert}. If the adverb bears the emphasis in a phrase {to boldly go} {to strongly favor}, then leave the split infinitive alone. But if moving the adverb to the end of the phrase doesn’t suggest a different meaning or impair the sound, then it is an acceptable way to avoid splitting the verb. Recasting a sentence just to eliminate a split infinitive or avoid splitting the infinitive can alter the nuance or meaning: for example, it’s best to always get up early (always modifies get up) is not quite the same as it’s always best to get up early (always modifies best). Or an unnatural phrasing can result: it’s best to get up early always.

Now, rather than reinventing the wheel, I’m going to use an example from the Wikipedia entry on split infinitives, as an example of why one might write it like this.

R.L. Trask uses this example:

* She decided to gradually get rid of the teddy bears she had collected.

Clearly, what is implied here is she took a decision to get rid of her teddy bears, and the disposal would happen over time. ‘Gradually’ splits the infinitive ‘to get’. But if we were to move it, where would it go? Consider the following:

* She decided gradually to get rid of the teddy bears she had collected.

This implies that the decision was gradual.

* She decided to get rid of the teddy bears she had collected gradually.

This implies that the collecting process was gradual.

* She decided to get gradually rid of the teddy bears she had collected.

This might sound awkward to most native speakers of English.

* She decided to get rid gradually of the teddy bears she had collected.

This is almost as awkward to say as its immediate predecessor.

The sentence can be rewritten to maintain its meaning, however, using a noun – “She decided to get rid of her teddy bear collection gradually” – or an appositive – “She decided to get rid of her teddy bears, which she had collected, gradually.”

In the end, in my opinion, what it comes down to is personal choice. And if, as an author, you want to use a split infinitive or two, well…author voice does count for something, especially when you could ask several different English “experts” and they’ll all give you a different proclamation about whether split infinitives are okay or not. So I think it’s safe to use them, as long as you’re using them in moderation and as long as you give due consideration to someone who points one out as perhaps being awkward (because sometimes, they are awkward!) And, of course, given my previous lecture on adverb use, since most split infinitives occur because of adverbs, if you can rephrase it without the adverb and therefore correct the split infinitive, all the better!

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