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    When to Infinitively Split

    We’re taught in grammar school never to split an infinitive. (Or at least we used to be taught that in grammar school. Do they still teach grammar in grammar school?)

    But rhetoric likes to break the rules, so long as it can break them rhetorically. And breaking the rule against infinitive-splitting can make for great rhetoric. Witness this fun sentence from Wonkbook whiz kid Ezra Klein.

    Rick Santorum [is] about to very publicly come to the conclusion that Mitt Romney is not as bad as he previously thought.

    Santorum faces a classic awkward political moment. Having trashed Romney for months, and having faced a barrage of well-funded Super-Pac negative advertising, the erstwhile presidential candidate must soon endorse his opponent. So how does Ezra Klein make that awkward moment seem awkward? By using awkward grammar! 

    A grammarian will want to edit Klein’s sentence, eliminating the “very publicly” in front of the verb. “To” and “come” count as one unified verb (an “infinitive”), and it’s just plain cruel to separate them. Or awkward, at least. Which is exactly why Klein does it.

    Want your sentence to sound tortured? Try torturing an infinitive!

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    Reader Comments (10)

    Should you be encouraging the use of bad grammar at a time when our society is being ruined by poor usage? Shame on you, Figaro! I had believed you were one of the last bastions of proper language.

    I don't care how "rhetorical" a split infinitive may be; improper grammar is simply immoral.
    April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSen-Sen
    Immoral, Sen-Sen? Really? Your comment makes me want to hysterically laugh. And how do you feel about one-word sentences?
    April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterArt Wadsworth
    I like it! Awkwardness conveyed awkwardly. Writing really is a craft!
    April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTeagan
    “To” and “come” count as one unified verb (an “infinitive”), and it’s just plain cruel to separate them.

    Nonsense. The infinitive is "come". "To" in this context is a modal particle signifying intention. This is a matter of style, not grammar (unless one is an 18th century prescriptivist).
    April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFred Bloggs
    The silly "rule" against splitting infinitives comes from people grafting the rules of Latin grammar onto the English language, which is really a Germanic language if you study linguistics.

    For me, the English language should be depicted as a German drunk on French wine and wearing a toga.

    Grammar Girl has a good rundown of the "don't split infinitives" prescriptive nonsense: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/split-infinitives.aspx
    April 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterQuintilian B. Nasty
    Is it coincidence that I saw this on the same day as a Cracked article explaining that the rule against splitting infinitives has no historical root for it, and is essentially just a bad habit codified?

    As Grammar Girl makes the point in the link above, Star Trek could've said "to go boldly where no one has gone before." But instead it opted for the far more iconic "to boldly go where no one has gone before."

    As Quintilian's pointed out, there is no rule. Rhetorically, it sounds fine. And grammatically, it's correct. And I'll always want to boldly go somewhere versus going boldly somewhere.
    April 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSGH
    Um, I still think "to venture boldly" sounds better than the wimpy "to boldly go." How about y'all?
    April 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    I like the alliteration in "to boldly go". And you have to consider that "go" matches "gone" later in the sentence.

    When you change the verb to "venture" you break up the alliteration, making it less memorable, and your verbs no longer match.

    Also, isn't splitting the infinitive just... bolder?
    April 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSGH
    I'm siding with SGH. I prefer "to boldly go."
    May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterQuintilian B. Nasty
    Actually, splitting the infinitive is more natural; the pattern doesn't draw any attention or condemnation in speech. Not splitting the infinitive can lead to undue awkwardness.
    June 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlias Moniker

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