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Split Infinitives

Split Infinitives

A split infinitive occurs when an adverb appears between the to and the base form in an infinitive. For example:

We need to seriously consider what they said.

Grammarians in the latter part of the nineteenth century condemned the split infinitive on the grounds that the infinitive in Greek and Latin is never split (which is not surprising given that the infinitive in those languages is only a single word). In more modern times, most grammar and usage books adopt an equivocal approach that amounts to saying, "There is nothing wrong with splitting infinitives, but don't do it in writ­ing because it bothers some people." The Macmillan Handbook of English offers a typical view:

It is not true that the parts of an infinitive are inseparable. But since a split infinitive still causes many persons (especially composition instruc­tors) discomfort, it is better not to split infinitives too rashly or pro­miscuously. A good rule to follow is this: place the adverbial modifier between to and the verb of an infinitive only when such an arrangement is necessary to avoid an awkward phrase.

It is clear from research that even carefully spoken, educated people split infinitives in conversation all the time. Nevertheless, since some people are truly bothered by split infinitives in writing, the foregoing advice from the Macmillan Handbook is probably a reasonable guide.

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