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split infinitive

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split infinitive

An example of a split infinitive from George Bernard Shaw

Definition:

A construction in which one or more words come between the infinitive marker to and the verb (as in "to boldly go where no man has gone before").

A split infinitive is sometimes regarded as a type of tmesis.

"I think the evidence is conclusive enough," says editor Norman Lewis: "it is perfectly correct to consciously split an infinitive whenever such an act increases the strength or clarity of your sentence" (Word Power Made Easy, 1991).

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "To deliberately split an infinitive, puristic teaching to the contrary notwithstanding, is correct and acceptable English."
    (Norman Lewis, How to Speak Better English. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1948)


  • "I was wise enough to never grow up while fooling most people into believing I had."
    (attributed to Margaret Mead)


  • "One of the members had accused Mr. Chapman, the Premier, of wilful and corrupt perjury, or something to that effect. After a large number of honourable members had spoken, it was unanimously carried that the Speaker 'do censure him, and require him to retract his words, to humbly apologize to the House, and to apologize to the Honourable the Premier.'"
    (Benjamin Arthur Heywood, A Vacation Tour at the Antipodes, 1863)


  • "It seemed that he had caught [the fish] himself, years ago, when he was quite a lad; not by any art or skill, but by that unaccountable luck that appears to always wait upon a boy when he plays the wag from school."
    (Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat, 1889)


  • "Her first class wasn't until the afternoon. That would give her time to quickly head to the house, then come back and grab a bite to eat in the cafeteria."
    (Kayla Perrin, The Delta Sisters. St. Martin's Press, 2004)


  • "Milton was too busy to much miss his wife."
    (Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, 1779-1781)


  • "News of the government’s plan to on average halve pay for the top 25 employees of firms that took two bailouts ricocheted down Wall Street on Wednesday."
    (Eric Dash, "A New Challenge for 2 Ailing Banks." The New York Times, Oct. 21, 2009)


  • "The phrase 'to solemnly swear' is at best an explication of what is implied in the idea of swearing, at worst a pleonasm."
    (Peter Fenves, Arresting Language: From Leibniz to Benjamin. Stanford University Press, 2001)


  • A 19th-Century Proscription
    "Hostility to the practice of splitting infinitives developed in the nineteenth century. A magazine article dating from 1834 may well be the first published condemnation of it. A large number of similar prohibitions followed. The first to call it a 'split infinitive' was a contributor to the magazine Academy in 1897."
    (Henry Hitchings, The Language Wars. John Murray, 2011)


  • A False Analogy With Latin
    "The only rationale for condemning the [split infinitive] construction is based on a false analogy with Latin. The thinking is that because the Latin infinitive is a single word, the equivalent English construction should be treated as if it were a single unit. But English is not Latin, and distinguished writers have split infinitives without giving it a thought. Noteworthy splitters include John Donne, Daniel Defoe, George Eliot, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, William Wordsworth, and Willa Cather. Still, those who dislike the construction can usually avoid it without difficulty."
    (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition, 2000)


    "The split-infinitive rule may represent mindless prescriptivism's greatest height. It was foreign. (It was almost certainly based on the inability to split infinitives in Latin and Greek, since they consist of one word only.) It had been routinely violated by the great writers in English; one 1931 study found split infinitives in English literature from every century, beginning with the fourteenth-century epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight . . .."
    (Robert Lane Greene, You Are What You Speak. Delacorte, 2011)


  • Clarity and Style
    "In fact, an unsplit infinitive may be less clear than a split one, as in 'He decided to go boldly to confront his tormentor,' where it is unclear whether boldly is attached to go or confront or perhaps both."
    (Jean Aitchison, The Language Web: The Power and Problem of Words. Cambridge University Press, 1997)


    "The split infinitive is another trick of rhetoric in which the ear must be quicker than the handbook. Some infinitives seem to improve on being split, just as a stick of round stovewood does. 'I cannot bring myself to really like the fellow.' The sentence is relaxed, the meaning is clear, the violation is harmless and scarcely perceptible. Put the other way, the sentence becomes stiff, needlessly formal. A mater of ear."
    (William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. Macmillan, 1979)


  • The Lighter Side of Split Infinitives
    "Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split."
    (Raymond Chandler, letter to Edward Weeks, Jan. 18, 1947. Quoted by F. MacShane in Life of Raymond Chandler, 1976)
Also Known As: cleft infinitive
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