Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Boldly going – or the split infinitive

with 3 comments

Raymond Chandler Omnibus

When talking or writing about a verb the word ‘to’ is usually added. For example:

  • To eat
  • To run
  • To speak
  • To be

This is called ‘the infinitive’ because the verb does not apply to anything or anyone in particular.

The split version

So splitting an infinitive means to place a word, often an adverb, between the word ‘to’ and the verb. For example:

  • To humbly beg
  • To loudly speak
  • To thoughtfully answer

Some strict grammarians say an infinitive must never be split, but many disagree (including Raymond Chandler; see comments below).  And a very famous example of a successful split infinitive is:

To boldly go where no one has gone before

No expectant shivers run down the spine if the Enterprise crew is about to go boldly where no one has gone before. It just doesn’t have the same ring — and there’s your guide. If your split infinitive sounds better than not splitting it — split away.

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Written by Wordwatch

03/11/2009 at 10:27 am

3 Responses

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  1. Guy Keleny in The Independent‘s Errors & Omissions column:

    Splitting headache: “A gift for those who don’t want illegally to download,” said a headline on a news page last Saturday. Heavens, what contortions to avoid a split infinitive! What is wrong with “to download illegally”?

    And what is this? Turning to the beginning of the article, we read: “I’ve always been too cowardly to illegally download music.” So the agony in the headline went for nothing after all.

    Deborah

    05/01/2011 at 5:40 pm

  2. Raymond Chandler:

    Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write 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 and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of bar-room vernacular, that is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.

    Deborah

    03/02/2011 at 6:07 pm

    • hahaha. Editors!

      Michael Farrell

      03/02/2011 at 6:13 pm


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