Split Infinitives

Split Infinitives

A split infinitive occurs when a verb in its infinitive form (e.g., to laugh) has an adverb between the to and the verb (e.g., to really laugh).

Easy Examples of Split Infinitives

  • To really try
  • To further develop
  • To secretly watch

Real-Life Examples of Split Infinitives

  • To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer. (Biologist Paul R. Ehrlich)
  • We need criminals to identify ourselves with, to secretly envy and to stoutly punish. They do for us the forbidden, illegal things we wish to do. (Psychiatrist Karl A. Menninger)

Why Should I Care about Split Infinitives?

A split infinitive is often the most succinct, accurate and natural-sounding way to convey your idea. There's bit of an issue with the split infinitive though. Without any real justification, some people (and it's not an insignificant percentage) regard the split infinitive as non-standard English or even a grammar mistake. It's neither. It's perfectly acceptable.

But, your knowing a split infinitive is acceptable doesn't change their understanding. So, the question we all face is whether to avoid a split infinitive because some of our readers will think it's wrong? I'd say no. But, hey, I like to live on the edge. However, you might want to play it safe, in which case, you could try rewording your sentence. If you've ever tried that, you'll know that sentences reworded to avoid a split infinitive often sound contrived or give a different emphasis. Here's the final advice: if you feel your reworded sentence doesn't scan right, just use the split infinitive. You'll have given a respectful (albeit unseen) nod to those who don't like split infinitives, but you'll also have contributed to burying this wrong once and for all.

Okay, we can't have an entry on split infinitives without talking about Star Trek.
  • "Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before."
    (Introductory speech of the original series of Star Trek)
Ever since the 60s when it debuted, Star Trek has been slammed for including a split infinitive in the introductory speech. It is therefore interesting to note that when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" launched in 1987, the updated version of the speech replaced "Its five-year mission" with "Its continuing mission" and "where no man has gone before" with "where no one has gone before". The much criticised "To boldly go" stayed. And, with good reason. It's fine. Imagine the uproar they'd be if they changed it to "To go boldly". That uproar? That's how okay split infinitives are.

Key Point

There is no need to actively avoid a split infinitive, which is often the most succinct, accurate and natural way to convey your thought.
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