A Quick Message About Split Infinitives

People are posting messages on my Facebook page incorrectly stating that split infinitives are against the rules in English and that good writers should not split infinitives. I needed to take immediate action to dispel this myth.

The authoritative Bryan Garner says in “Garner’s Modern American Usage,” “Although few armchair grammarians seem to know it, some split infinitives are regarded as perfectly proper.”

Many (of not all) modern style guides allow “good” writers to split infinitives when it sounds more natural. Other experts who explicitly allow split infinitives include

  • Patricia O’Connor, author of “Woe Is I”
  • John McIntyre, former copy chief of the Baltimore Sun and former president of the American Copy Editors Society
  • Bill Walsh, author of “Lapsing into a Comma” and a copy desk chief at the Washington Post
  • Barabara Wallraff of Wordcourt and the former editor of the Copyeditor newsletter
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (5.106)
  • The Associated Press Stylebook (section on verbs)
  • The Language Log (calls the belief against splitting infinitives is a “zombie rule”)

I could add more, but it seems unnecessary.

Many people were taught in the past that they shouldn’t split infinitives, and some people are still taught that, but it is an outdated rule that isn’t based on reasonable logic. (The Chicago Manual of Style places the heyday of this rule between 1850 and 1925.) It is based on a Latin rule that has little to do with English. (The reasoning is that it’s impossible to split an infinitive in Latin because Latin has no two-word infinitives, so it shouldn’t be done in English either–which is ridiculous reasoning.)

It’s true that split infinitives still annoy many people, but I won’t support a myth just because many people hold a mistaken view and choose to complain. I do advise people not to split infinitives in important documents such as cover letters for jobs because in such circumstances it’s good to take the safest, most conservative route; but I will never say split infinitives are wrong, and I won’t allow people to say so unchecked on my Facebook page.

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9 Responses to A Quick Message About Split Infinitives

  1. Can you supply some GOOD examples and some awful examples?

    Thanks,

    @jmacofearth

  2. to boldly go where no man has gone before.

    Here, the adverb “boldly” splits the full infinitive “to go.”

    More rarely, the term compound split infinitive is used to describe situations in which the infinitive is split by more than one word:

    The population is expected to more than double in the next ten years.

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  4. goldeneagle says:

    Yes(when you have time) please do the other half of the story about what split infinitives are.

  5. Trey says:

    Hear, hear!

  6. Anne says:

    I know it’s okay and is something I [and most everyone] does in ordinary speech, but when I write I do everything I can to avoid this. Yet, with it doesn’t sound natural I throw caution to the wind. After all, writers use slang all the time. How this is any different?

    I do avoid ending sentences with a preposition [most times] and am just now getting used to the one space after a period. 😉

  7. Brian Sexton says:

    The safest, most conservative route may lead to one being practically indistinguishable from numerous other candidates pursuing the same position.

  8. Victoria Ellsworth says:

    Brava!

  9. David Chandler says:

    One example where splitting an infinitive makes a clear difference in meaning is with negatives:
    To not split an infinitive implies a deliberate, specific decision not to, whereas not to split an infinitive might simply be an oversight.