Split Infinitives in English: Not Actually Wrong, but Unwise

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In English, an infinitive verb fulfills the function of a noun and is formed with “to” and the verb “be” — thus, “to take,” “to laugh,” and “to be.”

You may have been warned (by stern but well-meaning eighth grade English teacher Sister Mary Knucklewhacker, or by fussy but thorough high school guidance counselor Mr. Nerdbody) that it’s bad form to “split an infinitive” by inserting a modifying word between “to” and “be”.

The following are examples of split infinitives: “to greedily take,” “to enthusiastically laugh,” “to finally be.”

Iffy Example...to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Good Example..boldly to go (or to go boldly) where no man has gone before.
In Latin, the infinitive is a single word (“to be” = “esse”; “to take” “capere”) and is thus impossible to split; it is therefore bad form to split an infinitive — when you are translating from Latin to English.

The prejudice against split infinitives in native English is a bookish restriction that serves no real function. That doesn’t make the rule unimportant.

Many people have memorized the “no split infinitives” rule and take it very seriously.

Until a few generations ago, educated people almost always studied Latin; so, for generations, people who wanted to write and talk like educated people took care to avoid split infinitives.

It’s best never to split infinitives (unless you want to really emphasize the risk you are taking).

More on split infinitives.


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