Should You Split (Infinitives)?

Are "split infinitives" formal English?


Writing well is important not only to communicate clearly; it can contribute positively to your image. You want to know when it's ok --or even better--to use informal English.


What is an infinitive? What is a split infinitive?

An infinitive is the base form of a verb--such as "to go"-- but is used a noun, an adjective, or an adverb (see our article on infinitives: To Be or Not To Be: That is the Infinitive


Example:

I want to go with you.

The infinitive "to go" is the direct object of the verb "want."


A split infinitive is an infinitive that is split by another word or words, usually an adverb. The most famous split infinitive is from the slogan of the television series Star Trek:


“to boldly go where no one has gone before."


To avoid splitting that infinitive, we could rewrite that phrase this way:


"to go boldly where no one has gone before"


Generally, adverbs are parts of speech which are meant to come after verbs and before adjectives. Usually, words in the "correct" order sound the most natural.

"to go boldly where no one has gone before" may not be so bold anymore when it means simply splitting the infinitive

Examples of sentences with infinitives intact. Adverbs are underlined.

She tries to run too fast.


The wind began to blow softly through the trees.


The very lovely girl was the type to smile often.

Usually, words in the "correct" order sound the most natural.

As English has evolved, however, forcing all infinitives to stay intact has become more awkward more often. Indeed, an infinitive forced to stay intact can detract from the intended meaning or tone. Such occasions are when formal English gets is in the way of communicating, which is an even bigger problem that the breaking of any "rule." Scholarly analyses of English language text messaging by the masses shows the infinitive being split more often than ever before with no signs of retreat on the horizon. The English language is evolving as all languages do: through its use by its users.


When should we avoid splitting infinitives?

Because an infinitive is a single unit, it makes sense not to split it if it isn't necessary. The more complex a sentence's structure is, the more parts it has. In order to keep everything clearer, it is good practice to keep each unit "whole" as often as possible,


When can we split infinitives? What's the "new" rule?

Is there a difference between "to go boldly" and "to boldly go"? Some would say there isn't, so don't split it. However, if you are the writer and you think so, it is ok to choose the one that you mean, the one that carries the tone that you intend.

The English language is evolving as all languages do: through its use by its users.

We intend to bring you another English lesson next week. Thanks for reading!

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