The insertion of a word between "to" and the infinitive of the verb. The most famous example of this is "to boldly go" from Star Trek. Some people consider this bad grammar but others think that this is no worse that spliting a nominative, e.g. "the tall man" which is perfectly acceptable grammar.

And I quote from HHGTTG:

...and to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before...

I didn't get this the first time I read the Trilogy, mainly because my english teacher was too busy trying to make us understand commas (for the 6th time) to teach us such complex grammatical concepts as these. But I asked my sister, and she explained it, and i literally rolled around on the floor laughing for a good five minutes... it still brings a chuckle to my... chuckle zone or something.

Apparently, the reason that split infinitives are considered bad grammar, is that they are impossible in Latin. And the English language got codified at a time when Latin was held in very high regard.

Here's how Fowler introduced this subject in the 1920s, in Modern English Usage:
The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know & condemn; (4) those who know & approve; & (5) those who know & distinguish.

1. Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, & are happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes; 'to really understand' comes readier to their lips & pens than 'really to understand', they see no reason why they should not say it (small blame to them, seeing that reasons are not their critics' strong point), & they do say it, to the discomfort of some among us, but not to their own.

In the second class are the people Fowler most strongly condemns: those who have heard there is a bad thing called a split infinitive, but don't know what it is. "These people betray by their practice that their aversion to split infinitive springs not from instinctive good taste, but from tame acceptance of the misinterpreted opinion of others."

By this he means people who would write "really to be understood" or "to be understood really", both of which are ugly, in order to escape the imagined fault of splitting the verb complex and writing "to really be understood" or "to be really understood". The last two ways are the good, plain English ways of saying it, yet people in class 2 imagine they are taboo. Yet only the first of the two is a "split" infinitive: there isn't even an imaginary rule against the second.

Those in class 3, who know what it is and don't want to do it, can be recognized by the weird distortions they come up with. A word is in the wrong place, a phrase reads wrong, it is unnatural, there is something stylistically awkward about it: why would anyone write this? Aha! They're trying to avoid a split infinitive. So they twist away from natural English because they're following this imaginary "rule".

Example: "Every effort must be made to increase adequately professional knowledge & attainments." Huh? Adequate professional knowledge...? Oh, no, I see, what they meant was "to adequately increase professional knowledge". If you say it in the natural English way, it's so much clearer. Avoiding the split is unnatural and ugly and can read like nonsense.

The problem with the fourth class, who deliberately use the split infinitive, is that so many people (including, unfortunately, editors and proofreaders and teachers) are aware that it might be frowned on that they are prepared to advise "better not do it", just in case someone thinks you're ill-educated.

In my opinion it would be far better if teachers and editors actively encouraged plain English, and struck out queer circumlocutions like "to increase adequately": if they insisted that splitting infinitives is the good, correct English way. Note: not merely tolerated, not merely letting you off a rule which is supposed to exist, but coming out and saying very firmly there is no such rule.

It is a superstition. It is a fetish. If you're a native-born speaker of English, then you know all the true rules of the language instinctively. If someone comes up to you and springs a new rule on you, one you have to mind as an adult, they're wrong. There is no such rule.

You don't find these fictional rules in grammar-books. You don't find them in dictionaries. Grammars and dictionaries are there for describing what people actually say: it's been a hundred years since a respectable work of authority laid down the law (or rather claimed to).

What grammarians and lexicographers say hasn't filtered down to teachers yet, and you still get teachers saying that such-and-such is a rule, or is bad. Well the teacher is wrong.

In 1762, Bishop Robert Lowth did a grave disservice to the English language when he published his Short Introduction to English Grammar. Rather than basing his grammatical rules in the usage of the best educated speakers and writers of English, he arbitrarily chose to base them on the Latin grammatical system. The result is that many modern usages in English, particularly an alarming number of rules of normative usage and Standard Written English, are based upon those false origins. Lowth's defense of Latin as an "educated" role model for English has given rise to a school of prescriptive grammarians who find it their sworn duty to prescribe this Latinate usage system to those speakers who have managed to escape its inoculation in the educational institutions of English-speaking countries. Prescriptive grammarians are adamant, and their forceful prescriptions and high-brow judgments are irresponsible, and a denial of the rich cultural heritage of our language.

In Lowth's grammar infinitives cannot be split. It is not possible for Lowth because it is not possible in Latin to split an infinitive. Well, of course not. In Latin, an infinitive is one word. However, it is not in English. English infinitives are two words, such as "to split," and there is little logic to keeping them fused together, except that it cannot be done in Latin and Bishop Lowth decided, quite on his own, that English should emulate Latin, and the world followed suit. Thus, one foolish man has made a messy mockery of the rich and dynamic English language.

From Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct:

Forcing modern speakers of English to not - whoops, not to split an infinitive because it isn't done in Latin makes about as much sense as forcing modern inhabitants of England to wear laurels and togas. Julius Caesar could not have split an infinitive if he had wanted to. In Latin the infinitive is a single word like facere or dicere, a syntactic atom. English is a different kind of language. It is an "isolating" language, building sentences around many simple words instead of a few complicated ones. the infinitive is composed of two words - a complementizer, to, and a verb, like go. Words, by definition, are rearrangeable units, and there is no conceivable reason why an adverb should not come between them:

Space - the final frontier . . . These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

To go boldly where no man has gone before? Beam me up, Scotty; there's no intelligent life down here. As for outlawing sentences that end with a preposition (impossible in Latin for good reasons having to do with its case-marking system, reasons that are irrelevant in case-poor English) - as Winston Churchill would have said, it is a rule up with which we should not put.

Split infinitive. (Gram.)

A simple infinitive with to, having a modifier between the verb and the to; as in, to largely decrease. Called also cleft infinitive.

 

© Webster 1913.

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