Style Guru

Hand writingAre all split infinitives evil?

A radio disc jockey and musician turned writing tutor wrote in her blog earlier this year that “knuckle-rapping rule mongers” who advise you to avoid split infinitives are misguided. This is just an “average-level rule” that grammarians obsess about needlessly, she added. You can read the rest of her missive here.

Or is that a rule that grammarians needlessly obsess about?

The truth is that she’s partially correct. Most language experts and style and usage manuals caution against using split infinitives because they can result in awkward sentences and loss in clarity. But that doesn’t mean you must ban them forever. Occasionally, a split is not awkward and is necessary to convey meaning. Consider the following examples:

Awkward: My supervisor asked me to develop new concepts immediately for our clients.

Better: My supervisor asked me to develop new concepts for our clients immediately.

Awkward: ABC Co. helps organizations upgrade equipment to eliminate hazards in the workplace.

Better: ABC Co. helps organizations eliminate hazards in the workplace by upgrading equipment.

Awkward: Susan clearly told her sister to not go to the grocery store without a shopping list.

Better: Susan clearly told her sister not to go to the grocery store without a shopping list.

In these cases, you can ignore the “no-splits” policy:

The budget was tentatively approved.

The company’s losses are expected to more than double next year.

How has your health been?

If you’re not sure about splitting an infinitive, ask yourself if the sentence reads smoothly and makes sense. If it doesn’t, rewrite it.

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