TIPS AND TRICKS
Split infinitives have been (and undoubtedly will continue to be) a hot topic for discussion among language professionals. Some are of the opinion that a split infinitive is and will always be grammatically incorrect. Others see nothing wrong and even prefer splitting infinitives. In technical terms, no grammar rule exists that prohibits the splitting of infinitives. Experts on the subject believe the taboo associated with splitting infinitives arose from the notion that English should mimic Latin, and since infinitives consist of only one word, they cannot be split.
Nevertheless, seeing as a number of language authorities still insist that splitting infinitives is wrong, a safe suggestion would be to avoid splitting infinitives as long as it does not detract from the sentence’s meaning or make the wording sound awkward. Most (if not all) experts also agree that splitting infinitives that have to be or to have as auxiliaries is not wrong.
- We would like to quickly conclude the proceedings.
- The child began to slowly and with great unease approach his parents’ friend.
These are examples of when the writer could easily rewrite the sentences both to avoid splitting the infinitive and to make the sentences slightly clearer.
- Revised: We would like to conclude the proceedings quickly.
- Revised: The child began to approach his parents’ friend slowly and with great unease.
- To boldly go where no man has gone before.
If we were to rewrite this sentence, it would sound odd.
- Revised: To go boldly where no man has gone before.
Another example where avoiding a split infinitive proves problematic:
- He decided to gradually get rid of the grammar notes he had taken.
Were we to rewrite the sentence, a few issues would arise:
- Revised: He decided gradually to get rid of the grammar notes he had taken.
This sentence implies that the decision to get rid of the notes was gradual, which is not the case.
- Revised: He decided to get rid of the grammar notes he had taken gradually.
This now implies that the notes were taken gradually, and this is again not what the writer originally intended.
- Revised: He decided to get gradually rid of the grammar notes he had taken.
This is both unidiomatic and bad English.
- Revised: He decided to get rid gradually of the grammar notes he had taken.
This sentence also sounds unnecessarily awkward.
In this case, the best and correct choice would be to split the infinitive.
Note that these sentences (with infinitival auxiliaries) are grammatically correct:
- He seemed to have finally understood the grammar surrounding split infinitives (though technically this sentence could be rewritten as He finally seemed to have understood the grammar surrounding spit infinitives).
- The rule appeared to have been carefully created.
Rewrite the following sentences to avoid split infinitives and ambiguity where appropriate.
1. We decided that it would be better to quickly go to the store.Sample answer
3. You fail to completely grasp the concept.Sample answer
4. They seem to always want more.Sample answer
5. He expects to more than double his profits in the next year.Sample answer
7. It’s best to always go to bed at a reasonable hour.Sample answer
Einsohn, Amy. The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.
Flick, Jane and Celia Millward. Handbook for Writers. 3rd Canadian ed. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, Ltd., 1999.
Messenger, William E. et al. The Canadian Writer’s Handbook. 5th ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada, 2008.
The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th ed. rev. and expanded. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Created by: Diana Franz