Make Your Editor Cry: Split Infinitives

Make Your Editor Cry:  Split Infinitives

You were probably taught to aggressively avoid split infinitives. If you see what I did there, congratulations. You now get to boldly go where no man has gone before.

An “infinitive” is the noninflected form of a simple verb form preceded by the preposition “to.”

Examples:

to avoid, to go, to like, to walk, to push

A “split infinitive” is created by placing an adverb or adverbial phrase between the preposition “to” and the simple verb—for example, to aggressively avoid, to boldly go, to really like, to casually walk, to gently push.

“To boldly go” and “to aggressively avoid” are examples of split infinitives because the adverbs (boldly and aggressively) split (or break up) the infinitives “to go” and “to avoid.”

Although split infinitives have consistently been condemned in grade-school classrooms as “wrong,” they’re commonly found in all kinds of writing and often make sentences read more clearly with respect to their intended meaning.

“Some infinitives seem to improve on being split, just as a stick of round stovewood does. ‘I cannot bring myself to really like the fellow.’ The sentence is relaxed, the meaning is clear, the violation is harmless, and scarcely perceptible.”

—The Elements of Style, Strunk & White

When in doubt, avoiding the split can’t hurt, but don’t ruin a perfectly clear and natural-sounding sentence just to adhere to an arbitrary anti-splitting rule. When moving the adverb to the end of a phrase doesn’t 1) cause confusion or 2) change the sentence’s meaning, it’s a good idea to keep the infinitive intact.

Example (to walk):

He urged me to casually walk up and say hello.

There’s no reason why this sentence couldn’t be:

He urged me to walk up casually and say hello.

It’s also a good idea to avoid splitting infinitives too widely.

Example (to manage):

This software allows your company to quickly, easily, and cost-effectively manage all tasks.

One possible revision:

This software allows your company to manage all tasks quickly, easily, and cost effectively.

Infinitives should be split when the adverb either needs emphasis or wouldn’t work anywhere else in the sentence.

Examples (to come):

They’re expected to gradually come down in price to about $50 to $75 each.

Placing gradually anywhere else in this sentence would create awkwardness and confusion.

Examples:

They’re gradually expected to come down…

They’re expected to come down gradually

More examples (to triple):

Ford plans to more than triple employment at its four-year-old plant in Louisville.

Here, the phrase more than would not work very well anywhere else in the sentence.

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