Split infinitives

Split infinitives


Split away. We do it all the time in speech. There’s no grammatical reason why we can’t split infinitives in English.

And George Bernard Shaw and Raymond Chandler have done it in writing, so we’re in good company.

What do you mean, ‘split infinitive’?

Like ‘to quickly read’ or the more famous Star Trek example, ‘to boldly go’. It’s when you shove another word (usually an adverb) between the ‘to’ and ‘verb’ part of the verb.

It’s all because of Latin (no, really)

This ‘rule’ is a historical hangover from a time when we didn’t quite understand how languages were related to each other.

In Europe, up through the 1700s, most scientists and philosophers and philologists (language nerds) wrote in Latin. They thought that Latin and English were closely related to each other—not unreasonably, since English has a lot of words that come from Latin.

In Latin, you can’t split an infinitive, since infinitives are one word. So, people started to say that even though you could technically split an infinitive, you shouldn’t. Because that would move English away from pure, good Latin. Which is nonsense.

 


  • Grammar

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