Write Right: Split Infinitives

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Write RightSplit infinitives are like split lips or split ends. All three are bad, and all three require some work. Split ends require scissors and – I hope – a good hairstylist. Split lips need ice and maybe some stitches. Split infinitives? Split infinitives require editing, perhaps some ice but more likely scissors and glue (Cut and paste is a good friend to have.).

What exactly is a split infinitive? A split infinitive happens when a “to” has lost its accompanying verb: to hesitate, to read, to jog. The error often is the fault of a “not.” The negative wedges itself between the “to” and the verb, resulting in a split: “She expected him to not rise until later that morning.” The remedy is simple; move the “not” before the “to.”

The split infinitive sometimes is more natural and preferable. In such cases, a phrase, such as “more than,” often is found between the “to” and the verb: “He was to more than triple the company’s income in the upcoming year.” Such phrasing is allowed because any other alternative would result in an awkward sentence structure.

Perhaps the rules regarding split infinitives aren’t quite as absolute as originally thought. In general, it’s best not to split the infinitive from its verb, but the correct wording falls upon economy of expression. How can one say what one intends to say without sounding unnatural and without complicating matters?

Have a grammar question or a grammar wrong in need of righting? Share your questions or wrongs on the Write Right Facebook page.

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Erin Feldman

Erin Feldman is a marketing consultant and copywriter based in Austin, Texas. When she isn't helping clients tell their stories, she reads, writes poetry, draws, and takes kickboxing classes.

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