Split Infinitives

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I recommend Eugene Volokh on split infinitives. In short: there's nothing grammatically wrong with them, they've been a part of standard English since long before the language police decided they were evil, and the decision to call them ungrammatical stems from a desire to pretend English is Latin. If you decide to, following my advice, click on the link, you'll also discover that some split infinitives are just so ridiculously awkward as to not be worth using, and some are impossible to avoid without losing some key component of what you want to say.

The first split infinitive in the last sentence is a good example of the former. The second isn't really a good example of the latter, since the splitting could easily have been avoided, but I needed to say what I wanted to say rather than what would have made a good example, and it's too late to spend more time thinking about if I could do it right and say what I wanted. For good examples of obligatorily infinitives from two different linguists, see the Language Log posts here, here, and here.

For the record, I try to avoid split infinitives whenever possible in my own writing, just because I know some people will perceive them as a sign of unintelligence. But there's nothing ungrammatical about them, and it's probably inaccurate even to call them infinitives given that they don't have a form that operates similarly to standard infinitival forms in other languages but do have this splitting function.

3 Comments

Thanks for consistently putting out an interesting blog. I read it several times each week and am always glad I stopped by for a visit. Blessings, and peace, Kevin.

I wasn't aware that anyone cared anymore about split infinitives. Your example 1, with the participial phrase set off by commas, is almost comically awkward when seen in writing, but is a perfectly good example of how infinitives often work in spoken English.

I think most English speakers unconsciously connect the "to" of the infinitive with the previous verb when there is one, as in "decide to", "need to", "want to", etc., and thus it feels perfectly natural to split the infinitve off if there's something else we want to interject.

Maybe I should poke around and see if people are still making objections to split infinitves somewhere.

I try to never use split infinitives. Oops...

Actually, it's true, I am one of those who attempt to avoid split infinitives (as well as correct those who do on occasion). I think it comes from writing papers for so long and having it corrected, now I must make others suffer as I did.

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