What Are Split Infinitives?

One of the first grammar rules I ever learned was to avoid splitting infinitives. While there are many rules that govern how written and spoken English is structured, there are also many different ways to string words together and convey meaning. Indeed, using split infinitives isn’t the worst thing you can do in English writing.

What Is an Infinitive?

An infinitive is the base form of the verb. In English, this is typically the structure of the verb using “to.”

– To go

– To write

– To eat

A split infinitive is the infinitive form of the verb where another word, which is usually an adverb, appears between the “to” and the verb.

– To carefully consider

– To effectively write

– To quickly eat

Are Split Infinitives Grammatically Correct?

If you ask someone with a general knowledge of grammar if it is incorrect to split an infinitive, he or she is likely to say yes. This is because it is a generally accepted grammar practice, although there is no explicit rule at all. It may have started in the 1800s when the Dean of Canterbury, Henry Alford, expressed that he didn’t see a good reason to split an infinitive. The Fowler brothers, who wrote The King’s English in 1907, also chimed in that they didn’t like the look of the split infinitive.

It’s important to note that these are mere opinions, but people latched onto them as if it were a rule to not split infinitives. This was how the grammar myth grew. In fact, this ”rule” doesn’t seem to appear in any credible English language textbook, which means that split infinitives are grammatically correct. So if you hear someone telling you or anyone else that you shouldn’t split an infinitive, you can now set the record straight.

To Split or Not to Split?

Many scholars, including Alford and the Fowler brothers, agree that it’s not always appropriate to split an infinitive. The tactic may work well in creative writing and poetry, but it’s sometimes awkward to encounter split infinitives in academic or professional writing. In many instances, it is possible to reword or rephrase a sentence so that it doesn’t contain a split infinitive. In short, you can split an infinitive any time you please, but it’s generally preferred to avoid doing so in formal writing.

– To effectively write quality content, you need to research and proofread your work.

This sentence can just as easily be rewritten so the infinitive is no longer split.

– To write quality content effectively, you need to research and proofread your work.

Keep in mind that sometimes splitting an infinitive places certain emphasis that isn’t the same if you reword the sentence. Consider one of the most famous modern sentences containing such a split infinitive and how it would change if you didn’t split it.

– To boldly go where no man has gone before.

Are You a Splitter?

Split infinitives appear in all kinds of writing. Well-respected authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald were known to use them. Although it is a good idea to be judicious about where and when you choose to split an infinitive, you don’t have to be a grammar snob if you happen to come across one in your readings. What are your thoughts on splitting infinitives? Is doing so OK, or should writers avoid doing it at all cost? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.