Go Ahead and Split that Infinitive
We all remember that adamant injunction from our school days: “Never split an infinitive.” I’ve read that this rule comes from the prescriptive pedants who were brought up Latin. In Latin, of course, you can’t split an infinitive . . . because it’s one word. But we’re not ancient Romans. The best writers always throw out the rules when it serves their purposes.
Lately I have been reading Letters of E. B. White (which I highly recommend). And White, who everyone agrees was a great prose writer, reminds us over and over that our ear—not dusty grammar rules—should be our guide in writing. Orwell also told us, in “Politics and the English Language,” that we should break the rules of grammar and usage rather than say anything outright barbarous. So if it sounds better to split an infinitive, just go ahead and split away.
Here’s an example. Suppose you went to a party and indulged in way too many adult beverages. The next morning your wife asks you, “Do you remember what YOU did last Night?” Casting back in your mind, you find a glaring blank. All you have are a gigantic headache and inexplicable bumps and bruises. So you repent of your mysterious misdeeds and make a promise to your wife. You tell her, emphatically, “I vow never to do that again!” Naw, there’s no punch in that. What you would say is this: “I vow, so help me, to never, ever do that again!” Much better. (She might actually believe that.)
So, in the matter of splitting infinitives, let your ear guide you. Read it out loud, and if it sounds better to split your infinitive, then split it.
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