Split infinitives have often been the source of much debate among teachers, grammarians, and those who wish to use the most proper of speech. It has been said that an infinitive should never be split.
In grammar, an infinitive refers to the form of the verb preceded by to:
- to be
- to do
- to love
- to go
A verb in the infinitive case is a verb in its most basic form. If you put a word or words, usually an adverb, between 'to' and the verb, you split the infinitive.
- to boldly go
- to fondly remember
- to completely comprehend
Refusing to split an infinitive is an old rule that can produce unnecessarily muddled sentences. Steering clear of split infinitives often results in weak, ambiguous, or overly formal sentences. Additionally, it can change the meaning of a sentence. If one wishes to be formal, avoiding split infinitives would be a good practice, but attempts to avoid them by moving adverbs around may result in inferior sentences.
Few modern authorities on English follow the old rule. The debate lies between those who believe that split infinitives should be avoided when possible by placing the adverb before or after the infinitive, unless doing so sacrifices clarity or leads to awkwardness, and those who believe that it is a nonissue and that no effort should be expended in trying to avoid them.
As The Chicago Manual of Style states, "Sometimes it is perfectly appropriate to split an infinitive verb with an adverb to add emphasis or to produce a natural sound." Here at ProofreadNOW, we do not remove split infinitives unless our client asks us to by way of a house style guide.
Factoid: The split infinitive construction goes back to the 13th century, but was relatively rare until the 19th century. Only one split infinitive can be found in Shakespeare's works (in Sonnet 142, he wrote: "Root pity in thy heart, that when it grows thy pity may deserve to pitied be."). But by the 1800s it began turning up again, in the works of Thomas Hardy, Lord Byron, and others. (Source: To Boldly Split Infinitives, CBC News Online, Blair Shewchuk)