exploring the cases of split infinitive
As pointed out in the concluding part of the INFINITIVE studyOpens in new window, a word shouldn’t come in between the infinitive. But sometimes a word usually an adverb or phrase would manage to sneak in between an infinitive, giving room to what is called SPLIT INFINITIVE. Within this study, we’ll take adventure into the realm of Split Infinitives.
- A SPLIT INFINITIVE (also called CLEFT INFINITIVE) is a grammatical construction in which a word or phrase comes between the to and the bare infinitive of the to form of the infinitive verb. Usually, an adverb or an adverbial phrase comes between them.
A viral split infinitive in recent years comes from the famous quote from Star TrekOpens in new window: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
which could have been written as,
- “To go boldly where no man has gone before.”
It is a good principle to avoid sneaking words into infinitives, the argument being that infinitive is a single unit and, therefore should not be divided.
Although, a purposefully split infinitive may be preferred in some cases. For example, consider the phrase “to promote exercise vigorously” (Iverson et al., 1998).
There could be confusion by some as to whether vigorously relates to promote or exercise, hence writing “to vigorously promote exercise” could be clearer, unless of course the intent was “to promote vigorous exercise.”
Nevertheless, the general rule should be: Do not split infinitives unless the sentence is less awkward when doing so.
Examples of Split Infinitives are shown in the table below. Accompanied on the right are its respective corrections.
|Split Infinitives||The preferred Infinitives|
||We plan to initiate the funded study quickly.|
||To study the source of the error Effectively.|
|The last example in the table is a particularly flagrant abuse of the infinitive.|
Other examples of split infinitives occur when a single “to” serves multiple infinitives.
Whereas it is generally acceptable to write,
- “There is a need to assemble and test the device,”rather than
- “There is a need to assemble and to test the device.”
Finally, note that infinitives can occur in active or passive voice and in past or present tense. In such cases, the infinitives may take different forms, such as:
|Present active||to tell|
|Present passive||to be told|
|Past active||to have told|
|Past passive||to have been told|
The Oxford American Desk Dictionary, which came out in October of 1998, says that the rule against the split infinitive can generally be ignored, that the rule “is not firmly grounded, and treating two English words as one can lead to awkward, stilted sentences.” (“To Boldly Go,” The Hartford Courant. 15 Oct 1998.)
Opinion among English instructors and others who feel strongly about the language remains divided, however. Today's dictionaries allow us to split the infinitive, but it should never be done at the expense of grace.
The Bare Infinitive
In the previous studyOpens in new window, we made mention of the bare infinitive—an infinitive without the particle to. However, verbs of perception such as “hear,” “see,” “watch,” “feel,” etc. and a handful of other verbs i.e., “help,”, “let,” and “make,” usually take the bare infinitive in the active voice, as exemplified in the following sentences.
- We watched him clear the table.
- They heard the thief crash through the door.
- She made me do it.
- We helped her finish the homework.
Forming statements with a negative infinitive
The negative infinitive is formed by adding not in front of any form of the infinitive.
- We decided not to go back there.
- She'll rather not sing.
- Not to miss the class will be ideal.
- Andy might not do it.
- He went into business not to broke again.
Using the Infinitive with Question words
The verbs: ask, decide, explain, forget, know, show, tell, and understand can be followed by a question word such as where, how, what, who, and when + the infinitive marker, to.