Split infinitive definition: A split infinitive occurs when another word is placed between “to” and the verb in an infinitive.
What is an Infinitive?
An infinitive is the base form of a verb that exists before it is conjugated.
- to swim
- to run
- to jump
- to play
The infinitive includes “to” and the verb.
What is a Split Infinitive?
What does split infinitive mean? A split infinitive means that there is a word or words between the word “to” and the verb in the base (infinitive) form of the verb.
- The words that split infinitives most often are adverbs.
- Following are some examples of infinitives next to split infinitives.
- Infinitive/Split Infinitive Examples:
- to swim/ to quickly swim
- to run/ to slowly run
- to jump/ to bravely jump
- to play/ to imaginatively play
These split infinitive examples all have an adverb separating the base form of the verb.
Is Splitting an Infinitive a Mistake?
Experienced writers sometimes choose to split infinitives for various reasons. Primarily, splitting infinitives is a stylistic choice.
English grammar rules suggest that splitting infinitives is not the best way to write or speak. However, this rule is more a guideline than anything else.
Novice writers or students new to the English language should probably avoid from splitting infinitives. However, experienced writers are free to use because they understand the rules of the language.
Sometimes it is very clear that splitting an infinitive is a good choice.
Writers will split infinitives to emphasize an adverb. This is a stylistic choice.
- They seem to really enjoy their new assignment.
- This example splits the infinitive “to enjoy” with the adverb “really.” In this case, “really” would have a particular emphasis.
- Without split infinitive: They really seem to enjoy their new assignment.
- Now, “really” seems less emphasized in the sentence.
Sometimes splitting infinitives is clearly a poor choice.
- She wants to clearly visit grandma this weekend.
- This example splits the infinitive “to visit” with the adverb “clearly.” This split just causes confusion within the sentence.
Other Functions of Infinitives
Infinitives can function as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.
Infinitives as Nouns
When an infinitive acts as a noun, it can take the place of any noun in a sentence. That is, it can be the subject but it can also be the object.
Noun Subject Example:
- To skip is freeing.
- In this example, the infinitive functions as the subject doing the action of the sentence.
Noun Object Example:
- The girl loves to skip.
- In this example, the infinitive functions as the object, the thing that the subject does.
Infinitives as Adjectives
When an infinitive acts as an adjective, it must modify a noun.
- To skip, you have to spend time practicing.
- In this example, the infinitive functions as an adjective because it modifies the noun, you.
- The best way to skip is to place one knee high while hopping with the other foot.
- In this example, the infinitive functions as an adjective because it modifies the noun, way.
Infinitive as Adverbs
When an infinitive phrase acts as an adverb, it must answer one of the following questions,
- How much?
- Sarah wants to bring a toy to share.
- In this example, the infinitive functions as an adverb because it answers WHY Sarah wants to bring a toy.
- He worked hard to provide.
- In this example, the infinitive functions as an adverb because it answers WHY he worked hard.
Summary: What are Split Infinitives?
Define split infinitive: the definition of split infinitive is an infinitive verb composed of to followed by one or more modifiers before the verb.
To sum up, a split infinitives:
- occur when a word separates “to” and the verb of the base form of a verb
- are not necessarily poor grammar
- are a stylistic choice
- can be used by experienced writers
What is a Split Infinitive? – Definition & Examples
An infinitive is the plain form of a verb. This is the verb form typically shown in dictionaries. In the infinitive form, the verb is usually preceded by the word 'to'.
When it is joined to the verb stem, the word 'to' is sometimes called the infinitive marker. Infinitives are common in everyday conversation and writing.
Infinitives can function as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.
Examples of Infinitives
There are many infinitives in the English language. Here are a few examples.
- to run
- to be
- to have
- to learn
- to swim
What Is a Split Infinitive?
A split infinitive is a writing error that occurs when the two parts of the infinitive are separated by another word. In other words, the word 'to' and the verb in an infinitive should be thought of as a single unit.
Examples of Split Infinitives
Can you spot the split infinitive in the following sentence?
- Mother asked you to quietly wait for her in the den.
The infinitive in this sentence is 'to wait', and by inserting the word 'quietly' between the 'to' and the verb 'wait', we have created a split infinitive.
Here is another example.
- Aunt Mary was not sure she wanted to go on the trip, but Aunt Lucy seemed to really want to go.
Can you find the word that splits the infinitive in this sentence?
Revising to Eliminate Split Infinitives
Split infinitives are easy to eliminate. To correct a split infinitive, the word that separates the two parts of the infinitive should be moved.
What is a Split Infinitive?
This is the passage that contains what may be the most famous split infinitive of all time:
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.
to boldly go – The infinitive is to go. The adverb boldly splits it by coming between the “to” and the “go.”
So what’s wrong with that?
Although generations of grammarians have done their best to forbid the splitting of the English infinitive, their efforts have failed to stamp out the practice.
Because it can be split.
- An infinitive is the basic form of a verb.
- In many, if not most, languages, the infinitive is one word.
- In English, however, the infinitive is made up of two words.
- Here, for example, are some French, Spanish, and Latin infinitives and their English equivalents:
French: aller (to go) courir (to run) écrire (to write)
Spanish: beber (to drink) escuchar (to listen) hablar (to speak)
Latin: capere (to take) cupere (to desire) optare (to choose)
French, Spanish, and Latin infinitives cannot be split because they are expressed by one word.
There’s no point in forbidding English speakers to place a modifier between the “to” and the verb that follows it. They can do it, so they will.
Sometimes splitting the infinitive is the only way to express the thought to be conveyed.
Consider the following sentences.
I want to live simply.
I simply want to live.
I want to simply live.
To boldly go for it: why the split infinitive is no longer a mistake
Name: The split infinitive.
Age: 800 years. Ish.
Appearance: Hideous or invisible, depending on your point of view.
I’d have to say invisible, since I don’t know what it is. An infinitive is one of the many forms that a verb can take. If I say, “It is nice to know more than you” then “to know” is the infinitive of the verb know.
What’s a split infinitive then? A split infinitive is when other words creep into the middle of an English infinitive. The most famous example is Star Trek’s “to boldly go where no one has gone before”. The Victorians decided that splitting an infinitive was a grammatical mistake, and some people still agree with them.
Why? That’s a question I can’t answer. Basically, they just think it’s clumsy to wantonly put in extra words after the “to”.
I see what they mean. But now they have been proven wrong!
Really? How? Researchers at Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press have concluded that split infinitives are now nearly three times as common in British speech as they were in the early 1990s.
How on earth can they tell? They’ve gathered the Spoken British National Corpus, which they say is the largest ever public collection of transcribed British conversations.
How have they done that? They persuaded 672 people to record 1,000 hours of conversations using their smartphones. This produced 11.5m words, with a rate of 117 split infinitives per million, compared with a rate of 44 per million recorded in the early 1990s.
OK. But surely split infinitives don’t stop being mistakes just because more people use them? Au contraire. In language, that’s exactly what happens, because the meaning of words keeps changing.
Eh? Maybe 100 years ago splitting an infinitive meant, “I don’t know my grammar rules”, because they were usually avoided by people who did. However, now that most people, including language experts, are relaxed about split infinitives, that changes. Indeed, taking trouble carefully to avoid them means: “I’m a bit fussy and old-fashioned.”
And correcting other people’s means: “I prefer being right to being kind.” Exactly.
Do say: “I’ve become increasingly disinterested in this subject.”
Don’t say: “No you haven’t! You’ve become uninterested.”
Contrary to what some grammarians say, there is no rule against using split infinitives in English. One might use them with care, but splitting an infinitive is sometimes the best way to clearly express a thought.
What are split infinitives?
An infinitive is the uninflected form of a verb along with to—for example, to walk, to inflect, to split. A split infinitive is created by placing an adverb or adverbial phrase between the to and the verb—for example, to boldly go, to casually walk, to gently push. Although split infinitives have been widely condemned in grade-school classrooms, they’re common in writing of all kinds.
When you’re in doubt, avoiding the split can’t hurt, but don’t ruin a perfectly clear and natural-sounding sentence just to adhere to an arbitrary antisplitting rule.
When to avoid split infinitives
When moving the adverb to the end of a phrase doesn’t cause confusion or change the sentence’s meaning, it’s a good idea to keep the infinitive intact—for example:
He urged me to casually walk up and say hello.
There’s no reason why this sentence couldn’t be,
He urged me to walk up casually and say hello.
It’s also a good idea to avoid splitting infinitives too widely:
This software allows your company to quickly, easily, and cost-effectively manage all tasks.
One possible revision:
This software allows your company to manage all tasks quickly, easily, and cost effectively.
Sometimes, a split infinitive is simply more awkward than an alternative:
Do you have to so loudly play?
This sentence would be much less awkward as,
Do you have to play so loudly?
When to split infinitives
Infinitives should be split when the adverb either needs emphasis or wouldn’t work anywhere else in the sentence—for example:
They’re expected to gradually come down in price to about $50 to $75 each.
Placing gradually anywhere else in this sentence (They’re gradually expected … ; … come down in price gradually to about … ) would create awkwardness and confusion. Another example:
Caterpillar plans to more than triple employment at its four-year-old diesel generator plant in Newberry.
Here, the phrase more than would not work anywhere else in the sentence. Try it, and you’ll see.
date: 08 June 2020
Few other grammatical issues have become such a cultural meme.
As Fowler put it: ‘The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; (5) those who know and distinguish’. The aim here is to convert to the fifth category anyone included in the first four.
The base form of an infinitive is shown in to love, with the verbal parts preceded by the particle to. When these two elements are ‘split’ by an adverb or adverbial phrase (e.g.
to madly love, to really and truly love) or other word or words the construction is called a split infinitive. In Latin such a construction was impossible because infinitives (amāre ‘to love’, crescere ‘to grow’) were indivisible and not preceded by a grammatical particle.
The type My mother taught me to be always prepared is not a split infinitive. It would become one only if phrased as My mother taught me to always be prepared.
Another type sometimes falsely taken to be a split infinitive is that containing to + insertion + verb in –ing. e.g. I mean it’s not as if I’m going to be actually risking my life—K. Amis, 1988.
There can be no doubt that journalists in parts of the national press, many respected writers, and average people are reluctant to split infinitives in writing. Thus in Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda (1988): He was never ashamed publicly to bear witness. When the late Bernard Levin, wrote in the Times (24 Oct.
1991) he [a former political prisoner] was in Vilnius to formally close down the headquarters of the Lithuanian KGB, the use called for special comment in the Diary pages two days later.
In a leading article in the 18 May 1992 issue of The Times it was stated that ‘The most diligent search can find no modern grammarian to pedantically, to dogmatically, to invariably condemn a split infinitive.
’ These light-hearted comments highlighted the irrational nervousness that many people feel: they imagine that, by splitting an infinitive, they are breaking a terrible taboo.
A quarter of a century on, depending on the publication concerned, many modern-day editors and subs are more relaxed; the Economist Style Guide neatly sums up this approach ‘Happy the man who has never been told that it is wrong to split an infinitive: the ban is pointless.
Unfortunately, to see it broken is so annoying to so many people that you should observe it.’ Stephen Pinker (1994) expresses a modern linguistic and commonsensical approach: ‘forcing modern speakers of English…not to split an infinitive because it isn’t done in Latin makes about as much sense as forcing modern residents of England to wear laurels and togas’. However, the millions of people who use the grammar checker in Word will still find split infinitives flagged for their attention.
In some cases, the adverb even becomes attached to the wrong verb: It was in Paris that the wartime alliance began finally to break up—television broadcast, 1998. The intended meaning is that the process of breaking up entered its final phase, not, as suggested by the order shown, that it finally began.
The only, not very compelling, argument against split infinitives is when they jar for some reason.
This argument shifts the issue from grammar to style, but is only valid when the adverb can be placed naturally in another position or when the split is a lengthy one: We talked about how everything was going to suddenly change—N.
Williams, 1985 (defensible on grounds of emphasis, perhaps, but the normal order is We talked about how everything was suddenly going to change); You two shared a curious dry ability to without actually saying anything make me feel dirty—P.
Roth, 1987 (split here for effect); Lectures…were introduced in the Middle Ages only because it was not possible to affordably type lecture notes for students—Independent, 2006. This is one that truly jars stylistically (not to mention historically) because of the long adverb: better to put the adverb at the end of the phrase: not possible to type lecture notes for students affordably.
The prejudice against the split infinitive, though relatively recent in the broader context of the history of English, has a considerable weight of opinion behind it.
The split infinitive is, therefore, best avoided, especially when it is stylistically awkward.
But it is not a major error nor a grammatical blunder; it is acceptable, even necessary, when considerations of rhythm and clarity require it.
Split Infinitives – NIU – Effective Writing Practices Tutorial
Split infinitives are a specific type of misplaced modifier.
|Incorrect:||She decided to instantly quit her job.|
An infinitive is a verb preceded by the word to: (to write, to examine, to take, to cooperate). When an adverb appears between to and the verb itself, we get a split infinitive.
Correcting Split Infinitive Problems
To correct the above sentence, instantly should appear after the verb.
|Correct:||She decided to quit her job instantly.|
Split infinitives are a specific type of misplaced modifier.
Split infinitives should be avoided in formal writing.
- In formal writing, it is considered bad style to split an infinitive, but in more informal writing or in speech this has become more acceptable.
- In speech, the word really is often placed between to and the verb:
|Non-standard:||It would take incredible strength to really forget all her bad childhood memories.|
|Awkward:||It would take incredible strength to forget really all her bad childhood memories.|
Placing really after forget makes the second sentence sound awkward. Really is such a problematic word, it is best to avoid its use in writing and use a more specific adverb.
Some degree adverbs such as completely, entirely, unduly can also create awkward sentences when placed after the verb.
|Non-standard:||It's hard to completely follow his reasoning.|
|Awkward:||It's hard to follow completely his reasoning.|
A better choice here would be to put the adverb completely at the very end of the sentence.
|Preferred:||It's hard to follow his reasoning completely.|
Sometimes avoiding the use of a split infinitive creates ambiguity. Consider the following examples:
|Non-standard:||The patient was told to occasionally monitor her blood sugar level.|
|Correct:||The patient was told occasionally to monitor her blood sugar level.|
|Correct:||The patient was told to monitor her blood sugar level occasionally.|
In the second sentence, occasionally modifies the verb told and, in fact, alters the meaning of the sentence. However, placing occasionally at the end of the sentence creates ambiguity; does it modify the verb told now or the verb monitor?
The best position of the modifier occasionally is right after the verb monitor as in:
|Correct:||The patient was told to monitor occasionally her blood sugar level.|
In formal writing, sentences in which there is more than one element in the infinitive phrase should be avoided:
|Non-standard:||Our company decided to legally and rightfully seek damages for fraudulent use of the company documents.|
Sometimes it may be necessary to rephrase the sentence to maintain the correct form and meaning:
|Preferred:||Our company decided to seek damages in a legal and rightful way for fraudulent use of the company documents.|
|Preferred:||Legally and rightfully, our company decided to seek damages for fraudulent use of the company documents.|
Improve Your Writing
The infinitive of a verb is the form given in the dictionary where no specific subject is indicated. In English it is always characterised by the word 'to':
e.g. to work, to pay, to eat, to find, to inhabit, to bribe…
A 'split infinitive' occurs when the 'to' is separated from its verb by other words. The most famous split infinitive comes at the beginning of every episode of Star Trek, when the crew's continuing mission is announced as: “to boldly go” (rather than “to go boldly”).
Split infinitives have, traditionally, been regarded by some commentators as anathema, something to be avoided at all costs. There is no rational basis for this rule; splitting infinitives is commonplace in spoken language, and even in written English it may be clearer or more elegant to do so.
In general, however, split infinitives should be avoided in the formal register of an essay or other piece of academic writing, unless the alternative seems excessively awkward or clumsy. Usually it is sufficient to move the offending word so that it comes either before or after the infinitive.
Harry's teacher told him to never look back.
Harry's teacher told him never to look back.
She told me I had to quickly finish this sandwich.
She told me I had to finish this sandwich quickly.
I thought it best to quietly sneak away from the accident.
I thought it best to sneak away from the accident quietly.
I was told to always pay attention in class.
I was told always to pay attention in class.
There are occasions when splitting the infinitice is far clearer than any alternative phrasing:
That was the only way to more than double his salary.
Test your ability to spot and deal with split infinitives with this exercise.