Split Infinitives

Posted: March 26th, 2014, 10:52 am   By: brittany.corners

“You know, in China they’ll kill a monkey at the table, split its head open, and eat the brains right out of it.”—culinary anthropology in “Waiting for Guffman”

This week, we explore split infinitives.

We’ve all been given certain rules throughout our lives. Hold your sippy cup with two hands. Look both ways before you cross the street. Always make sure your giant rodents are properly outfitted with a saddle. You know, the basics.

Everyone has received another mandate: don’t split infinitives. However, this rule started much like the diktat against ending sentences with prepositions. During the 19th century, some creeps decided that English should be more like Latin, which does not split infinitives. Once again, though, we can free ourselves from an outdated and pedantic injunction.

What is a split infinitive?

In English, we have two forms of infinitives. The bare infinitive consists of just a verb stem, as in hoe, row, or blow. The full infinitive adds “to”: to hoe, to row, or to blow. Split infinitives put an adverb in the middle of the full infinitive: to slowly hoe, to quickly row, or to coldly blow.

When can we split infinitives?

Even though they don’t have to abide by Latin’s rules, writers should exercise caution when splitting infinitives. As “The Associated Press Stylebook” explains, “In general, avoid awkward constructions that split infinitive forms of a verb … Occasionally, however, a split is not awkward and is necessary to convey the meaning.”

In the spirit of the law, try to avoid split infinitives like these:

But sometimes split infinitives help accentuate the intended meaning:

  • Ex) In the sleepy suburbs, one man had the guts to really defy parenting norms.
  • Ex) Fiddy decided to boldly go where he had never been before: a NASCAR event.

Got it? OK, time for me to split.