Everyone has that one grammar rule that they just can’t seem to keep straight. For me, commas are my stumbling block. I used to have to think long and hard about whether my commas were needed in my sentences. I have gotten better at commas, but sometimes I still need to look up the rules to see if I have it right. Recently, some of my readers shared some of their most common grammar struggles. Today, I will address the issue of split infinitives.
First, let’s talk about what infinitives are. Infinitives are verbs with to in front of them. For example:
- to read
- to write
- to walk
They become split infinitives when something (usually an adverb) is placed in the middle. For example:
- to quickly read
- to saucily write
- to sneakily walk
Now this is where things can get tricky. There is actually no strict rule against splitting infinitives. (I could give you references from various grammar experts including Strunk & White but we are here for the quick tip and not an examination of the history of split infinitives. Contact me if you’d like to delve deeper into the subject.) In many cases splitting the infinitive is not the best way to write the sentence. Let’s look at some examples.
- She told me to quickly read the paragraph.
- He wanted to saucily write when responding to his mother’s message.
- She wanted to sneakily walk up behind her friend.
These would all make sense, possibly more sense, without the split infinitive.
- She told me to read the paragraph quickly.
- He wanted to write saucily when responding to his mother’s message.
- She wanted to walk up to her friend sneakily.
However, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to keep the infinitive together. Let’s look at another example. I picked this one up from Strunk &White’s The Elements of Style.
I cannot bring myself to really like the fellow.
As you can see, the sentence would not make as much sense if really was anywhere else. So, in some instances, a split infinitive is okay.
So, what are you supposed to do? Remember that writing a sentence that communicates your message clearly is your goal. When dealing with a split infinitive, try moving the adverb to a different part of the sentence.
Does it still make sense? Keep it there..
Does the sentence lose its meaning? Split the infinitive!
If you have any burning grammar questions or requests for future grammar tips please let me know in the comments below.