English Infinitive Verbs and Why They Should Not Be Split
The days when it was considered anathema to split infinitives in formal, particularly scholarly writing in the English language are long gone. 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 rather seems as though many speakers of English 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 those careful and well-educated writers 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, those 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 problem with infinitives stems from the fact that the infinitive forms of English verbs 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 through the addition of ‘to’ – ‘to come, to see, to conquer’ – and the two elements of the infinitive (‘to’ and ‘conquer’) represent one concept, so, logically speaking, they 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.
When English infinitives are split, the culprit is usually an adverb that is inserted between the two parts of the verb, as in Star Trek’s famous ‘to boldly go,’ and such split infinitives sometimes sound entirely natural because they have for many years been 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 proofreaders, publishers and committee members, still consider split infinitives incorrect grammar, so as a professional writer it is wise to keep the use of split infinitives to a bare minimum.
The best policy is to reword sentences containing split infinitives whenever possible, replacing ‘to successfully write a book,’ for instance, with ‘to write a book successfully.’ Rewording sentences containing split infinitives will undoubtedly prove challenging at times, and in certain instances 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 stand out as deliberate and necessary rather than the result of accident, ignorance or laziness.
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