What should one do with split infinitives?

Subject: What should one do with split infinitives?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2005 09:16:16 -0400


Rahul Prabhakar wondered: <<What should one do with split infinitives that is an infinitive with an adverb between 'to' and the verb (for instance, 'to properly interpret')? Do we let them be during sentence construction or modify the sentence?>>

The short version: There's nothing whatsoever wrong with split infinitives unless you're writing for snooty academics who don't know modern grammar. In many cases, they're far more clear and effective than the available alternatives. The long version:

The prohibition against split infinitives is believed to have arisen sometime around the 17th century. One of the best guesses of its origin is that John Dryden, a Latin scholar, was seeking ways to make English work more like Latin--completely ignoring the fact that the two are different languages, with different structures and different rules, and different patterns of usage. Every so often, this "rule" arises, despite irresistable evidence that it makes no sense in modern English. I believe Bishop Usher et al. revived this proscription about a century ago, but didn't check into this.

The only good justification for _not_ splitting an infinitive comes from the insertion of long adverbial phrases rather than a single adverb. In these cases, it's possible to, by inserting great stretches of useless narrative verbiage and exhibiting a clear disregard for how people think, compounded by demonstrating your tin ear and no sense of style, separate the "to" from the "verb" (as I have just done) by so much text that readers no longer recognize the verb when they finally reach it. This is clearly an exaggerated example, but even relatively short phrases make the identification of the verb more difficult than necessary.

A lesser justification comes from sentence rhythm and "comfort". If you have a good ear for how English is spoken, you'll recognize cases where a phrase is only idiomatic if you _don't_ split the infinitive. Failing to follow that particular idiom attracts the reader's attention to what you've done, and whenever you attract notice to the sentence construction, you distract the reader from the meaning. That's a bad thing.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
www.geoff-hart.com
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References:
What should one do with split infinitives?: From: Rahul Prabhakar

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