Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: Split Infinitives


Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?

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 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 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." 


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? That's what Strunk and White are talking about when they say it's a matter of ear.

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These five books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

Strunk and White's The Elements of Style


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


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