Wednesday, March 31, 2010

To boldly split an infinitive

I asked myself a question that spurs most of my researching.  "What the heck is a…?"  In this case, I wanted to know what the heck a split infinitive was.  What indeed.  My next question was, "What makes split infinitives so evil?"
Ironically enough, I wrote a masterful split infinitive in the very forum post that caused me to ask the question to begin with.  I didn't even realize what I had done.

"My goal is to one day, many years down the road, have some of this…"

So, what is a split infinitive?  Heck, I don't even know what an infinitive is let alone how to split it.

Infinitives are the base form of a verb usually proceeded by "to".  Examples:  "to be", "to go" or "to run".
Split infinitives are where you split the "to" from the verb by adding words in between:

"I would like to, eventually, leave this place."
"To leave" is split by "eventually".  A way around this is:

"I eventually would like to leave this place."
So my original example of where I split an infinitive, without even trying, could be rephrased like:

"My goal, one day many years down the road, is to have some of this…"

Now, why are split infinitives so evil?  That's a question that has been under debate for a very long time.  There are good arguments on both sides of that fence.

In simple terms, the split infinitives are evil crowd thinks that the "to" should never be separated from the verb.  It's grammatically incorrect and just plain wrong.  Don't do it.
The pro-split infinitives crowd says that it's not really grammatically incorrect and we only think it's wrong to split it because that's what's been pounded into our heads.  The rule goes back to Latin where it is grammatically incorrect to split an infinitive.  Problem with that line of logic is that in Latin infinitives don't have the equivalent of "to."  So it's impossible to split them, even if you wanted to.
There are other pro/con arguments and I could make this an extremely long and boring post.  Don't worry, I won't do that (at least not more than I usually do).

Where do I stand?  As with the other rules I've been learning, my feeling on the matter is to try not to do it.  It might not be grammatically incorrect, but it is still considered poor style.

However, one of the most famous split infinitives just wouldn't sound the same and the rhythmatic flow would be hurt if it were "fixed."  This is for all my Star Trek geek friends out there!

"To boldly go where no man has gone before."

To go is split by "boldly".  But, it just doesn't sound right and it loses impact any other way:

"Boldly to go where…"

"To go boldly where…"

So yes, avoid them, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.


Charmaine Clancy said...

This post has been a good reminder for me to make sure I pass on the split infinitive dangers to my English students ;-)

Elisabeth said...

Well glad I could help! It's one of those things that was never really spelled out to me before, so I had to learn it the hard way.

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