This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Split Infinitives - a rant.

My English History teacher once told me that splitting infinitives was a sin equal in depravity only to forward passing.

Unfortunately at the time I hadn't a clue what either a split infinitive or forward passing were.

I'm still not sure about forward passing (except that if I continue not playing rugby I should be okay) but split infinitives...

Okay. An infinitive is when you use the word to followed by some action. I want to go to the party, for example. Or I would love to snog a vampire. That sort of thing. 

(Some people think the to the and would love in the examples above are infinitives: but they're just wrong, okay? It has to be the word to followed by an action.)

Splitting an infinitive is when you put a word, or several words, between the to and the action. My favourite example comes from our local paper: I would like to, if I may, through the medium of your newspaper, thank the person...

Why is splitting infinitives wrong?

Well, there's no proper reason at all. In the olden days boys spent most of their schooldays learning Latin rather than English, and so they tended to apply Latin rules to both languages. And you can't spit an infinitive in Latin very easily because in Latin an infinitive only consists of one word. The Latin for to love, for instance, is amāre.

So is splitting infinitives wrong, then?

No. Not really.

I must say, though, that if you do split them, quite a lot of people will think you've committed a sin equal in depravity to forward passing.

So best avoided, on the whole.

Word To Use Today: split. This is a lovely lovely word. It comes to us from the Middle Dutch splitten, and before that from the Middle High German splīzen.
It always seems to have meant more or less the same thing.

1 comment:

  1. Possibly the most famous split infinitive of all time is: TO BOLDY GO Star Trek. I hate split infinitives and will never ever use one, even though I'm ASSURED by all the best people that it's okay to do it, really! Unlike, I presume, forward passing. It's my Dad's fault. He was most pernickety (persnickety, USA) about such matters. I will also never say: UNDER the circumstances but always, because he insisted on it: IN the circumstances.