Breaking Down Grammar: Split Infinitives

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As discussed last week, I often split my infinitives. The jury is out on whether or not this is a true “rule” in grammar, but that seems to be the case with most grammar rules these days. Things like, ending sentences with prepositions, using passive voice, and using the second person in writing are all up to user discretion these days.

However, should that be the case? Are these grammar rule-breakers the result of changes in language and writing over time, or will they eventually lower the English language to a dialect full of words that are of the basest nature and little more than caveman grunts? Who knows? I sure won’t be around to see if that happens.

Anyway, back to split infinitives. An infinitive phrase is a simple verb linked to the word “to” (“to go,” “to kick,” “to run,” etc). The infinitive is split when you separate the “to” from the verb. The most famous example of this that everyone uses is the Star Trek tagline:


To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before.


As you can see, the word “to” is separated from “go.” This is typically considered a grammar mistake. To fix it, you would switch the words “boldly” and “go.”

Basically, when you split an infinitive, it can add confusion to the sentence. It would be clearer to say “to go boldly” because you know at that point that you are going someplace. You obviously cannot  “to boldly” something.

Now, here is where you as the writer get to make the choice of how to style your writing. For example, you could write,

“To order the papers neatly, John carefully separated them by date.” 

Or, you could write,

“To neatly order the papers, John carefully separated them by date.”

As someone who loves to split infinitives, I like the second version the best. I think the trouble with splitting an infinitive, particularly if the sentence contains several parts, is that it can become confusing. When you put the description before the action, it requires the reader to view the entire sentence at once to gather the meaning, rather than getting the meaning right away. Keeping your infinitive phrase together will make your writing simpler and easier to understand.

Is that always better? That is up to you.

Here is an interesting fact sheet on how to structure infinitives. 

What do you think, is it ever okay to split infinitives? 


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