Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Myth

By Connie S. Hall

Isn’t it fun when you can discover a myth? I’m going to share one with you today. Maybe you can let me in on some of the ones you know.

Some days the hardest thing to not write is a split infinitive. See I told you. I bet I could win a contest writing them. If you don’t know what it is, I’ll explain. It’s when a word or phrase comes between the word to and the verb. To fix it sounds simple, but I can tell you from experience it isn’t always easy.

Traditional grammar and the most formal grammar rules require that we not split infinitives.
This one rule has been the cause of much controversy, but saying they are ungrammatical is a myth. To avoid the split infinitive sometimes results in ruining the rhythmic pattern. It’s good to avoid them in formal writing, but to avoid them when writing a story simply by shuffling adverbs about can create far worse sentences, and often changes the entire meaning of the sentence. Splitting an infinitive is not a sin, but it’s nice to avoid. When it’s easy to fix, we should fix it, but there are times when we should let it go.

I was grateful to run across this piece of advice because I found myself toiling over one sentence, and juggling first one phrase of words then another. Sometimes nothing else works. As a writer, we sometimes need to decide if our sentence sounds best when split, and sounds awkward when it’s not. Many times as I'm typing away I write a split infinitive then realize how awkward it sounds and go back to change it. I’ve learned after a short time to move on. Sometimes it’s unavoidable.

Keep writing and don’t let those split infinitives discourage you.


C. L. Beck said...

Thanks for the good reminder to not split infinitives!:-)

(Good blog!)

Shanna Blythe said...


Warning: I will be getting up on a soapbox for just a few minutes. Blame my 'high falutin' education.

I appreciated your article about split infinitives. In formal, formal grammar you are right, split infinitives shouldn't be used.

That being said, split infinitives occur naturally in English. The only reason we even have this rule is because Latin was once considered the ideal language. In Latin you CANNOT split an infinitive. It doesn't occur in the language. In English our verbs or the most basic form of our verbs (ie infinitives) are in this form: to run, to go, to do, to see, to walk . . . etc. They are already split! In the Romance languages as in Latin the whole word is the infinitve, such as the Spanish word, to go would be ir. How could you possibly split 'ir' up?

As always if you are going to split an infinitive pay attention to the how it flows and how it sounds. We constantly split our infinitives in speech and it often happens in writing. Even in more formal settings such as college worrying about split infinitives are becoming a thing of the past. I have had VERY FEW professors (and I'm an English Teaching Major) worry about split infinitives. The way English is designed splitting infinitives works .

Soo, for the most part, like you said. Don't worry about the split infinitives, but always pay attention to the kind of flow it is creating. Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't!

Anonymous said...

You know, English classes cost a fortune. I'm willing to teach Dutch oven cooking if someone is willing to teach English and Grammar to me.
Keith Fisher

Connie Hall said...

Shanna - Thanks for your comments. That is why I called the article "A Myth" because the rule doesn't always apply.

Keith - Keep sending your stories to us at the blogging group - you should know that we'll help you any time.

Triple Nickel said...

A very thoughtful blog. May we all remember - to boldly go and write what no one has written before!