Editing for Grammarphobes: Split Infinitives


Today, we are going to explore a gray area in grammar, one that has some uses that are clearly wrong, as well as others that could go either way.

Split infinitives break up a compound verb, usually by inserting an adverb in between.


She had to quickly leave.

The preferred sentence would read as follows:

She had to leave quickly.

The Associate Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law states, “In general, avoid awkward constructions that split infinitive forms of a verb (to leave, to help, etc.) or compound forms (had left, are found out, etc.)” It gives the following example.

“Awkward: She was ordered to immediately leave on an assignment.

Preferred: She was ordered to leave immediately leave on an assignment.” 

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style also cautions writers to avoid it unless they want to “place unusual stress on the adverb.”

However, both sources note sometimes a split is not awkward, and, if edited to follow the rule strictly, the sentence would become stiff and too formal. Strunk and White even go as far as to say it is a matter of ear. When is the last time you read that about anything related to grammar?


She wanted to really help her students. 

The alternative sentence of "she really wanted to help her students" places the emphasis on the wanting to help, rather than the actually helping.

Or AP Style’s sample:

The budget was tentatively approved. 

It does not work to write “the budget was approved tentatively.” It sounds a bit awkward, right?

A Reminder 

Romance pieces for February’s "Flash Fiction Fridays" are due today. Please see the deadline the right for submission information. Thanks.


Ellen said…
Thanks. I need updates regularly, I regularly need updates.

Thanks for reading, Ellen.
Jon King said…
I do this all the time...and I find myself splitting them when I talk, too. Something to watch for.
Me, too, Jon.

Thanks for the comment.
Ellen said…
Actually, the one I wonder about is, "I am going to pick up Molly" or "I am going to pick Molly up." Which is correct? I am not going to physically lift Molly in my arms, I am meeting her to give her a ride!
If you follow what Strunk and White suggest, then the words "am going to pick up" are the verbs (future tense + verb) in the sentence, so, technically, they should not be split. Consequently, "I am going to pick up Molly" would be the more correct choice.
Anonymous said…
Thanks mucho, Karen. Makes sense.
You are welcome. Thanks for reading.

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