Split infinitives



Our strict grammarian teachers always told us never to split an infinitive. However, I often hear and read split infinitives, such as to boldly go, and they seem correct. Is it still not OK to split infinitives?

Salt Lake City, UT


The split infinitive seems to always be with us! Its prohibition has been mostly the occupation of grammarians schooled in the finer points of the Latin language in the late 19th century. This structure has been a feature of English for centuries and rarely causes a lapse in communication or effectiveness. There are far more egregious errors that we ought to spend precious teaching time on. (Note that I also don't mind ending that last sentence with a preposition!)

Barbara Matthies

I believe that it is actually a good thing to split infinitives in certain cases. Doing so clearly shows which word the adverb in the phrase is modifying: the verb directly after it.

Look at these examples from Marcella Frank (Modern English, Prentice Hall Regents, 1993), who says:

As evidence that the best writers have not hesitated to use this (mid-) position of adverbs with infinitives, we cite here examples of "split" infinitives taken from the works of reputable authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

…to still further limit the hours…
…without permitting himself to actually mention the name…
…in order to fully appreciate Lord Holland…
to half surmise the truth…
…I wish the reader to clearly understand
to further complicate our problem…

Some of these examples really clarify the modification of the verb that is in the infinitive form.

Of course, we shouldn't prescribe splitting the infinitive; it's just that, sometimes, using it is accurate and beautiful to describe what you mean. As Barbara has stated, it is not a point to get hung up on. (Note that I also don't mind ending this last sentence with a preposition.)


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