SW059 Split Infinitives

What is a split infinitive (sometimes called a cleft infinitive):

An infinitive is a simple “to” plus a verb [to] + [verb]

  • Example: to run, to jump

This is what is referred to as an infinitive, the idea of having a concept that combines these ideas roots in the Latin because in Latin and infinitive is a single form of a verb. It’s also why people brought the idea over to English because it’s a single word in Latin you literally can’t  split an infinitive.

Splitting an infinitive is when you put something between [to] and the verb

  • Example: to boldly go where no man has gone before.

A Brief History

  • Middle English is when the language allows it to be split

  • 1834 Letter to Editor to New England Magazine: “Used by uneducated writers”

    • Becomes the reference for why it should not be allowed in formal English.

  • 1966 First style guide  recommends using them in specific instances

  • 1998 Oxford Grammar Guide allows split infinitives

 

Arguments about English: should it change and why.

There are several basic arguments the people use for argue for or against certain changes in the language.

  • First: Language should be like math: no flexibility

    • Math is flexible

      • If you multiply two negatives you get a positive

      • If you add two negatives you get a larger negative.

        • It’s a flexibility of numbers, depending what symbol you put between them. We call that context in English.

  • Language should by how it was: it shouldn’t change

    • What about words like:

      • Spam was initially a brand of canned meat

        • The word is now used to stuff that comes in your email

      • Mouse

      • Decimate

        • This words evolved because of the emotional impact, not the numbers.

  • Language is defined by the great writers of it, and reference what they have done.

    • Shakespeare used split infinitives

      • Root pity in thy heart, that when it grows

      • Thy pity may deserve to pitied be

        • Strong weak rhythm

          • Robert Burns

            • Scots

              • Who dared to nobly stem tyrannic pride.

                • What we have here is using the split infinitives break up the descriptive words

                  • Instead of ‘to stem nobly tyrannic pride’ burns splits the infinitive for clarity.

    • The Red Badge of Courage, by Steven Crane

      • He tried to mathematically prove to himself that he would not run from a battle.

      • Also in Bram Stokers Dracula

      • Phillip Sidney, John Donne, Samuel Johnson, Samuel Coleridge, Emily Bronte, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Hardy, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry James and Willa Cather

  • Language should be like the language it comes from: Latin and Germanic references.

    • Earliest style guides referenced Latin guides because those were the only guides in existence.

    • Some people get stuck in their ways

      • Swearing in Obama

        • Split verbs: Presidential Oath:

          • I will faithfully execute

            • Chief Justice Roberts changes it because he doesn’t like the split verb, too much like a split infinitive:

          • I will execute faithfully: Obama doesn’t repeat because it’s off.

      • The Last Man on Earth: Carole miss corrects grammar

        • The first time she adheres the preposition rule, it works

          • Phil: "I promise you, there is nothing to be afraid of."

          • Carol: "Nothing of which to be afraid."

          • Phil: "I just said that."

          • Carol: "You can't end sentences with prepositions! 'Nothing of which to be afraid' is the proper grammar!"

        • Then she follows that rule when it doesn’t work

          • Phil: "What do you need that gun out for?"

          • Carol: "Don't you mean 'Out for what do you need that gun?'"

        • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpEEKv0coe0 Split it for rhythm: weak strong

Split it for rhythm: weak strong

  • Linguist look at why split infinitives for appeared and why they have persisted

    • Their idea is that a because English technically allowed for a split infinitive without hurting clarity, they became used often enough because they allowed speakers to use a strong weak rhythm that is pleasing to the ear.

      • Strong/Weak: To boldly go

      • Weak/Weak: To go boldly

 

Reattribution:

  • Child: I accidentally forgot to feed the hamster.

  • Parent: Well, you'll have to try harder not to "accidentally forget", won't you?


 

Clarity: split to make sure it’s connected to the correct verb.

  • Robert Burns

      • Scots

        • "Who dared to nobly stem tyrannic pride."

          • What we have here is using the split infinitives break up the descriptive words

            • Instead of ‘to stem nobly tyrannic pride’ burns splits the infinitive for clarity. Ensure that ‘nobly’ is attributed to ‘stem’ and not ‘tyrannic pride’

When you unsplit an infinitive

Let’s look at a sentence and see what happens when you unsplit an infinitive. The basic question is ‘Where does the adverb go if you unsplit the infinitive?”

  • She decided to gradually get rid of the teddy bears she had collected.

"Gradually" splits the infinitive "to get". However, if the adverb were moved, where could it go?

  • She decided gradually to get rid of the teddy bears she had collected.

This might imply that the decision was gradual.

  • She decided to get rid of the teddy bears she had collected gradually.

This implies that the collecting process was gradual.

  • She decided to get gradually rid of the teddy bears she had collected.

This sounds awkward, as it splits the phrase "get rid of".

  • She decided to get rid gradually of the teddy bears she had collected.

Trask considers this almost as unwieldy as its immediate predecessor.

  • Gradually, she decided to get rid of the teddy bears she had collected.

This might imply that her decision or the fact that she will get rid of her teddy bears is gradual. (From wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split_infinitive)

 

When you shouldn’t split it: if it reduces clarity

  • We should try to whenever possible avoid splitting infinitives.

  • We should try to avoid splitting infinitives whenever possible.