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split infinitive miss piggyWe’ve all seen it – spellchecking in a Word document when the grammar box pops up alerting you that you’ve split an infinitive. Most people nod, shrug and then click “next.”  Because, really, who knows what a split infinitive is and what you’re supposed to do to fix it?

They’re naughty, inconvenient and unclear modifiers. Split infinitives muddy the verb in the sentence and sound awkward. Good grammar tells us we shouldn’t add an adverb between “to” and the verb. Instead, you place the modifier after the verb.

Here’s a famous example of the split infinitive:  Star Trek’s “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” “To boldly go” is a split infinitive. “Boldly” splits “to go.” The statement should be “To go boldly where not one has gone before.” (Do Trekkies hate when that’s pointed out?)

I can see eyes already glazing over. So, let’s break it down.splitinfinitive1

Basically, an “infinitive” is a verb that is uninflected. In English, there are two kinds of infinitives: bare and full. Bare infinitives are the kind of verbs you usually see in a dictionary, such as:

  • go
  • sprinkle
  • run
  • split

Full infinitives are made up of two words, usually putting the word “to” in front of the bare verb:

  • to go
  • to sprinkle
  • to run
  • to split

So, when you have a verb with to in front of it you have a full infinitive. Simple.

A split infinitive puts an adverb between the two parts of the full infinitive. “To generously sprinkle” is a split infinitive because “generously” splits the word “to” from the word “sprinkle.” The correct version is to sprinkle generously. “To diligently inquire” also splits the full infinitive, and should be to inquire diligently.

So, remember not to split the “to” and the “verb” with an adverb. Unless you’re Raymond Chandler. I wouldn’t mess with him.

When I split an infinitive, goddamn it, I split it so it stays split.” – Raymond Chandler