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to boldly go into the split infinitive
Thread poster: Lesley Clarke

Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:34
Spanish to English
Mar 23, 2004

I remember about twelve years ago it was announced that split infinitives are now acceptable in the English language, but I have still continued to avoid them in my written English. However today I find the best solution that occurs to me in quite a long complicated sentence is a split infinitive. I'm not certain whether to go with, what do other people think?


Marcus Malabad  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:34
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
please post examples Mar 23, 2004


It would help the discussion if you posted your examples.



Catherine Bolton  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:34
Italian to English
+ ...
Hats off to Lesley! Mar 23, 2004

I'm delighted to hear that I'm not the only one who refuses to blithely split infinitives.icon_wink.gif
You may not know this, but TIME magazine published an obit for the unsplit infinitive. I cut it out and saved it for posterity. And I'm still in mourning.
Guess you know where I stand.

[Edited at 2004-03-23 19:02]


Aisha Maniar  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:34
Member (2003)
Arabic to English
+ ...
With you on this one :-) Mar 23, 2004

I too am a fan of the UNsplit infinitive. I know it's quite acceptable to use split infinitives but they still feel awkard to me and I didn't even finish school that long ago (relatively speakingicon_wink.gif!)

[Edited at 2004-03-24 10:40]


Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:34
Spanish to English
Thanks, but I would prefer a more abstract discussion Mar 23, 2004

In reply to Marcus:

Well I would rather the discussion were on the general principle of the split infinitive, and people's opinions about its validity.
Actually I've found a way around my problem and am not using the split infinitive any more, but I'm still curious about how rigid we should be.

[Edited at 2004-03-23 18:59]


Sarah Ponting  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:34
Italian to English
+ ...
To split or not to split Mar 23, 2004

Aisha Maniar wrote:

I too am a fan of the UNsplit infinitive. I know it's quite acceptable to use but it still feels awkard to me and I didn't even finish school that long ago (relatively speakingicon_wink.gif!)

Although I did finish school a good while ago (or so it feels), I will go a long way to avoid the split inifinitive. It doesn't look right and I get an urge to "correct" the examples I see in the work of others (I have even been known to post "neutral" comments on KudoZ answers involving split infinitives). I reckon that if it bothers me, then it probably also bothers a lot of other readers, and all it takes is a little effort to reword the phrase in order to avoid its use. Go on, tell me I'm old-fashioned...



Alison Schwitzgebel
Local time: 02:34
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
boldly go - unless it sounds wierd otherwise Mar 23, 2004

Lesley Clarke wrote:

However today I find the best solution that occurs to me in quite a long complicated sentence is a split infinitive. I'm not certain whether to go with, what do other people think?

As I understand it, the consensus is that you don't split an infinitive unless it sounds wierd otherwise. That is why it is acceptable to say "to boldly go" in that famous Star Trek quote rather than "to go boldly". I agree - don't split an infinitive unless you absolutely have to, but if you have to then that's ok too.

At least that's the rule of thumb I use!




GoodWords  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:34
Spanish to English
+ ...
Was it ever illegal? Some say Mar 23, 2004

I am convinced by the arguments that claim that this was a pseudo-rule, a chimera, a figment of 18th-century grammarians' imaginations.

A lot of editors waste a lot of time and energy making editing changes that, if you'll excuse the disgusting imagery, do nothing but shove a rod up the backside of good, conversational writing.

Perhaps the best example of this is the un-splitting fetish. No matter how many knuckles have been whacked with rulers over the "split infinitive," grammar experts will testify that there is no rule -- and never has been a rule -- against inserting a word between the to and the verb in an infinitive (as in to boldly go where no man has gone before). Somebody somewhere made up this "rule" because infinitives were never split in Latin. Of course they weren't: In Latin, infinitives are single words.

For example, the Latin word "ire" (pronounced like e-ray) means "to go." To apply this to English, some teachers and grammarians would say, "Treat 'to go' or any infinitive as a single word." That at first was just to help English speakers learn grammar easier.

However, we can see where the logic led. If we treat "to go" as a single word, then it is "wrong" to insert a modifier between the two parts of the infinitive. By the middle of the 1700's one influential grammar reference was promoting this. Soon others followed. While it never became standardized--even the some of the best writers and speakers were known to consciously break this "rule"--many students learned not to split infinitives.

There is really no good reason for the rule simply because English is not Latin! English infinitives are made up of two words. That rule was not like the rules about nominative and objective case which help us to communicate more clearly. There was no literary precedent and no just cause. It has been broken by some of the best writers and speakers.

Hardly any serious commentator believes that infinitives should
never be split. The dispute is between those who believe that split
infinitives should be avoided when this can be done with no
sacrifice of clarity or naturalness, and those who believe that no
effort whatever should be made to avoid them.

[Edited at 2004-03-24 15:29]


Local time: 01:34
that's what I've been taught... Mar 23, 2004

Split infinitives should be avoided if, by placing the modifier elsewhere, it would improve the impact or readability of the sentence.
Anyway I always try to avoid this kind of construction, but, you know I think it's just a matter of taste....
So I don't know if it makes sense TO DEFINITELY AVOID THEM...EHEHEH!!!


Terry Gilman  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:34
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Agree with Alison Mar 23, 2004

My understanding, probably from Fowler's, is that the rule about split infinitives was arbitrarily borrowed from Latin. Since the rule has taken root, however, it has affected our perception of what sounds awkward, and it is useful to avoid splitting infinitives when you are writing for an audience you don't know.

This discussion reminded me of George Orwell's dictum #6 towards the end of "Politics and the English Language."

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never us a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

(All debatable)

PS: Sorry about duplicating others' comments, must have been writing partly in parallel or not replicating.

[Edited at 2004-03-24 08:00]

[Edited at 2004-03-24 08:05]


Andy Watkinson
Local time: 02:34
Catalan to English
+ ...
Now I am confused Mar 23, 2004

When I went to grammar (sic) school (late sixties,early seventies) we were told that the split infinitive had once been considered "inelegant" but had since gained currency.

I now pick up a British newspaper and find it resorting to the ugliest of contortions so as not to split one.

It seems to me like some kind of throwback to "a preposition is not something you can end a sentence with", but in reverse.

And while we're on the subject, I sweated blood for several years trying to reach Spanish students that an indirect question sends the verb to the end of the sentence.

e.g." He asked me who my mathematics teacher at school WAS".

I now commonly read sentences such as:
"He asked me who WAS my mathematics teacher at school".

Sounds weird to me.



Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:34
Italian to English
As the man with the wooden leg said ... Mar 23, 2004's a matter of a pinion.

Having attended a traditional grammar school in the days when grammar was taught formally, I find a needlessly split infinitive can jar on the ear. However, I wouldn't expect everyone else to react that way.

Robert Burchfield, in his delightful book on The English Language (OUP 1985) notes that infinitives have been routinely split at least since the 14th century, and that Samuel Johnson in his Life of Milton had no compunction about writing "Milton was too busy to much miss his wife" in order to achieve the most effective rhythm for his sentence.

Undoubtedly, infinitive splitters can point to magisterial precedents.

The great thing, however, is to know what you are doing. The best quotation on the subject comes from Raymond Chandler, who in 1947 wrote to his publisher, "Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split".




Bruce Popp  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:34
French to English
a superstition Mar 23, 2004

Garner in A Dictionary of Modern American Usage devotes nearly two pages to the subject of when to split an infinitive, when not to, and akward usage resulting from attempts to not split infinitives.

Further, he has a heading "Superstitions" where he wites "In 1926, H. W. Fowler used the term supersitions to describe, in the field of writing, 'unintelligent application of unintelligent dogma.'" Garner's list of superstitions begins:
A. Never end a sentence with a preposition
B. Never split an infinitive
C. Never split a verb phrase
D. Never begin a sentence with and or but

He continues all the way to K.


[Edited at 2004-03-23 21:57]


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:34
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
No rules without exceptions... Mar 23, 2004

I'm definitely one of those people who go quite a way to keep them together. Very often the logic and rhythm of the sentence is considerably improved. And I'm about the same age as quite a lot of 'bosses' who can make a fuss about these things even if they should have better things to occupy their time.

I've also seen some incomprehensible sentences where to boldly (boldly splitting?? boldly to split??) split an inifnitive is the only intelligent option. However, definitely exceptional cases imho, and most, admittedly not all, can be rephrased.

Scandinavian languages often use infinitives where English prefers the --ing form, and that provides a useful escape.

There is a limit to how many words should be squeezed in between 'to' and the infinitive stem of the verb, but the ear is the best judge of that.

No prizes for guessing why Captain Kirk went into the little girls'room on the Enterprise. (to audaciously explore where no man had ever been before).

Sorry everyone, it's past my bedtime!

[Edited at 2004-03-23 22:27]


Will Matter  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:34
+ ...
a pinion Mar 24, 2004

[quote]George Watson wrote:'s a matter of a pinion. As is a bird with one wing icon_smile.gif

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