Split Infinitives

Gosh, reading back through my old posts, I realize that I am constantly splitting infinitives in my writing. Constantly!

I don’t think it’s always wrong to split infinitives. But it’s almost always infelicitous. At least nine times out of ten a sentence reads better if the writer takes the time to keep infinitives intact and to arrange the modifiers around the verb accordingly. In fact, the work it takes to “un-split” the infinitive often reveals that the modifiers aren’t doing anything to increase the clarity of meaning of the sentence.

Therefore I hereby declare to no longer randomly and infelicitously split infinitives.

Uh oh.

6 comments on “Split Infinitives

  1. Wyandotte says:

    Uh, oh. I don’t agree with you. I think it’s sometimes okay to leave the infinitive intact, but only sometimes. Anyway, who decides if it’s infelicitous or not? I hear tell that William F. Buckley would pull out his own toenails before he’d split an infinitive; it was opined that he was trying to copy Latin, where of course you can’t do that. But this is English. And that is where this prissiness began to be widely accepted – from Buckley and his ilk

    I truly think that “to be widely accepted” is more felicitous than “widely to be accepted” or “to be accepted widely”, but it is just my opinion. I sure wouldn’t want a book editor or perfesser telling me that I have to change this. You are arguing that maybe my use of the modifier “widely” (above) doesn’t add anything. I agree with you that the work involved in unsplitting the infinitive could reveal that the modifier is useless, except I don’t agree that this happen “often”, as you say.

    Och, it’s all grist for the mill. Who cares.

  2. outofsleep says:

    Ah, very good point!

    I still remember the first essay I wrote as a college freshman. It was about Plato’s Republic. My professor, Chuck Svitavsky, God bless him, was an ornery old guy and a great teacher. I wanted so badly to impress him. I wrote the kind of searching, convoluted essay that only an 18-year-old can write. Just so nervous and energetic. One of the things I did was go to ridiculous lengths to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition (which is a good general rule, but absolutely crippling to a good prose stylist if he attempts to follow it like Gospel.. at the time though, I thought I was being a good little soldier).

    Svitavsky callled me into his office after class. He said, “Good essay,” to my infinite relief. But he then went on to ask why I had written such and such sentences so awkwardly. I explained that one must never end a sentence with a preposition.

    He told me, “WInston Churchill, one of the great masters of the English language, once said, ‘That particular rule of grammar is one up with which I will not put.’ “

  3. Wm Jas says:

    Actually, Wyandotte, “to be widely accepted” isn’t technically a split infinitive. The infinitive there is “to be.”

  4. Bettie M. says:

    I disagree. The verb is “to be accepted”, and it stands alone. It’s not as if “accepted” is an object of the verb “to be”. Of course, maybe I’m incorrect in the way I am analyzing things. Any serious grammarians here? I apologize if I am full of baloney and you are correct.

  5. Wm Jas says:

    Well, actually, I suppose I’m a serious grammarian of sorts. Anyway, I have a degree in linguistics with an emphasis on syntax, and I teach English grammar professionally.

    The phrase “to be accepted” contains two verbs: “to be,” which is an infinitive, and “accepted,” which is a past participle. The head verb is “to be,” and “accepted” is an argument of that verb. (That’s the standard analysis, anyway. My old syntax prof Bob Levine would argue that the word “to” is actually a verb in its own right and is the head of the verb phrase in question.)

    The Wikipedia article on split infinitives seems to back me up: “A split infinitive is an English-language grammatical construction in which a word or phrase, usually an adverb or adverbial phrase, comes between the marker to and the bare infinitive (uninflected) form of a verb.” The phrase “to be widely accepted” doesn’t fit that description.

  6. Wyandotte/Betty says:

    Thanks, Wm Jas. I wasn’t thinking at all when I made my posts using “to be accepted” as an example. I should have come up with something better. Sorry, and thank you!

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