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Split Infinitives

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A split infinitive is an infinitive with an adverb placed between "to" and the verb.

There is a long-standing rule that infinitives should not be split. However, many grammarians see no grammatical reason for the rule, considering it merely a question of style. The split infinitive has been described as "an ugly thing" (Fowler, The King's English).

For example:

The time has come to once again discuss our annual office party

"once again" has been placed between "to" and "discuss". The writer could have avoided this awkward sentence by not splitting the infinitive:

Once again, the time has come to discuss our annual office party.

The best known example of a split infinitive is undoubtedly "to boldly go where no man has gone before " which was heard in the introductory voiceover to each episode of Star Trek.

The voice should have said: "boldly to go where no man has gone before" or, better still but admittedly less dramatic: "to go boldly where no one has gone before".

In fact, this split infinitive has become so famous that there are over 15,000 examples on Google: "to boldly go where no search engine has gone before" or "to boldly go where a lot of people have gone before" (advertising a holiday resort).

However, using a split infinitive may be the most stylish solution in some cases.

In the sentence :

"we did not have sufficient time to allow us properly to consider the issues raised"

the writer's fear of the split infinitive (allow us to properly consider) means he has placed properly in an unnatural position before to consider , and has changed the meaning of his sentence by doing so. " We properly considered the issues " means that it was the right and proper thing to consider the issues, whereas " we considered the issues properly " means we did so in a proper manner, fully and comprehensively.

So where should properly be placed? If we put it at the end of the sentence (" we did not have sufficient time to allow us to consider the issues raised properly ") it is too far from the verb. We could put it after consider , although it would split the verb and the direct object (" we did not have sufficient time to allow us to consider properly the issues raised ").

We could also split the infinitive: " we did not have sufficient time to allow us to properly consider the issues raised ". The meaning is clear, and the sentence is not stylistically awkward.

The following example, taken from The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers, demonstrates when infinitives can be split and when this should be avoided:

"The tenant hereby agrees:

(i) to pay the said rent;

(ii) to properly clean all the windows;

(iii) to at all times properly empty all closets;

(iv) to immediately any litter or disorder shall have been made by him or for his purpose on the staircase or landings or any other part of the said building or garden remove the same."

Gowers describes this as a "crescendo of splitting"! Although "to properly clean all the windows" is perfectly acceptable, the addition of "at all times" in point (iii) is rather clumsy, and the inclusion of 30 words between "to" and the verb in point (iv) makes the sentence impossible to understand without reading it several times.

To conclude, "never split infinitives" is a rule you should be aware of, but should not be afraid to break!

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