Grammar Guru: Split Infinitives


Has anyone (usually a grammar geek, like us) ever told you off for splitting an infinitive in your writing?

When this happens, the usual reaction is to read back over the offending sentence and think, “But that sounds fine!”

And the confusing thing is, it usually does sound fine.

Infinitives are the “to” (and two-word) form of verbs. For example:

“I have to go.”

“I learned to write.”

An infinitive is split when another word (usually an adverb) is inserted between the two parts. For example:

“I have to quickly go.”

“I learned to angrily write.”

Doing this has long been considered a grammatical error. Although why this is the case isn’t exactly clear . . .

So, is it OK or not?

The answer is simple. Sort of. Basically, it’s all about how it sounds.

Let’s consider perhaps the most famous contemporary example of a split infinitive: when William Shatner delivers the iconic narration at the beginning of every “Star Trek: The Original Series” episode. The line is:

To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Here, an adverb splits the “to” form of the verb. But consider the alternative:

To go boldly where no man has gone before.”

It just . . . doesn’t sound quite as good, does it?

And that’s really all you have to consider when you are about to split an infinitive. Does it sound good? Does it convey the meaning you want?

This definitely is one rule that’s made to be broken.

Click here for more of the “Friend” team’s Grammar guidance.

Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.