Split Infinitives

It takes boldness to split an infinitive.

Mignon Fogarty,
August 20, 2010
Episode #236

Page 2 of 2

Should You Split Infinitives?

What's a modern working writer to do? If you split infinitives, you'll likely get nasty mail from cranky people who believe it's their job to enforce imaginary grammar rules; so it kind of depends on how much you hate getting that kind of mail.

On the other hand, there's also no reason to deliberately split infinitives when you know it's going to upset people. The safer path is always to avoid splitting an infinitive. I would never split an infinitive in a pitch letter to an editor, for example, because there are certainly editors out there who believe the myth. If you want to get the assignment, don't split infinitives. For the same reason, I'd never split an infinitive in a cover letter for a job.

How to Avoid a Split Infinitive

It is usually easy to avoid splitting an infinitive. Instead of “to boldly go where no one has gone before,” the Star Trek writers could just have easily have written, “to go boldly where no one has gone before.”

You do have to be careful though. Sometimes when you try to avoid splitting an infinitive you can change the meaning of a sentence. Consider this example:

Steve decided to quickly remove Amy's cats.

The split infinitive is “to quickly remove,” but if you move the adverb “quickly” before the infinitive, you could imply that Steve made the decision quickly.

Steve decided quickly to remove Amy's cats.

You could put the adverb at the end—Steve decided to remove Amy's cats quickly—but that seems potentially ambiguous. You may want to rewrite the sentence without the split infinitive to make the same point:

Steve decided to grab Amy's cats and set them free before she got back from the corner market.

That's clear and doesn't have a split infinitive, but it also isn't necessary to rewrite the sentence unless it's important that your writing be as safe as possible. The bottom line is that you can usually avoid splitting infinitives if you want to, but don't let anyone tell you that it's forbidden.


1. “Infinitive,” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinitive#Infinitives_in_English (accessed August 18, 2010)

2. Nordquist, R. “Split Infinitives,” About.com. http://grammar.about.com/od/rs/g/splitinfinitive.htm (accessed August 18, 2010)

3. Alford, H. A Plea for the Queen's English: Stray Notes on Speaking and Spelling. New York: George Routledge & Sons, 1864. p. 171.


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