The Correct Use of Infinitive Verbs in Academic & Scientific English

The Correct Use of Infinitive Verbs in Academic & Scientific English
It was once considered completely inappropriate to split infinitives in formal, particularly scholarly writing in the English language, but the rules tend to be less strictly observed these days. In English text of virtually all kinds, from professionally published academic books to casual tweets, and among writers of all educational levels, split forms of infinitive verbs turn up with such frequency that it seems as though many of those writing in English today may not be aware of the structural nature of English verbs. Some style manuals no longer insist that split infinitives are true errors, so even the most careful and highly educated authors who might once have made an effort to avoid what is essentially an awkward construction often do not feel the need to reword their prose to respect the integrity of the infinitive. On the other hand, writers who persist in respecting that integrity whenever possible might be accused of splitting hairs in their attempts to write well, but better that, they would argue, than splitting infinitives.

The infinitive forms of English verbs are rather odd because they consist of at least two words, whereas in most languages the infinitive of a verb is a single word. For example, the infinitive forms of the verbs that make up the famous Latin phrase ‘veni, vidi, vici,’ meaning ‘I came, I saw, I conquered,’ are ‘venire,’ ‘videre’ and ‘vincere.’ In English, however, the infinitives of verbs are formed by adding to the base word the preposition ‘to’ – ‘to come, to see, to conquer’ – and the two elements of the infinitive (‘to’ and ‘conquer’) represent one concept. Therefore, these two elements should no sooner be separated from each other in grammatically correct English writing than the ‘-ire’ or ‘-ere’ ending should be separated from the stem of one of the Latin infinitives.
How to Achieve Academic Success
The usual culprit when an English infinitive is split is an adverb or adverbial phrase that is inserted between the two parts of the verb instead of before or after them. Perhaps the most famous example is ‘to boldly go,’ a phrase found in the original introduction to the television show Star Trek that some would argue has had a detrimental effect on more than one generation of English writers. Such split infinitives sometimes sound entirely natural because they are used daily in casual speech and informal written communications. Perhaps the increasingly common and casual nature of textual exchange has contributed to the widespread toleration of split infinitives, but it is important to be aware that some readers, including thesis and dissertation examiners and scholarly publishers, still consider split infinitives incorrect grammar. As an advanced student writing a professional document, it is therefore wise to keep your use of split infinitives to a bare minimum.

Split infinitives can easily be spotted while you carefully proofread your writing, and in many instances they can be repaired with a little rewording. A phrase such as ‘to successfully write a thesis,’ for example, can be rephrased to read ‘to write a thesis successfully.’ The changes will not always prove so simple, however, and in certain situations a sentence may need considerable rewriting to accommodate a necessary adverb or adverbial phrase more effectively. Making your best effort to adjust your text before deciding to retain a split infinitive will render those few instances in which you simply cannot rephrase in an appealing manner stand out as deliberate and necessary rather than the result of ignorance or grammatical laziness.

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