SPLIT INFINITIVES

In my editing work today, I came across this website wherein a business writing consultant encourages people to split infinitives. THE HORROR!!

Ok, so while my personal preference is not to split infinitives, as an editor working with APA guidelines, I don’t point out split infinitives much except when there are so many instances that I just can’t take it anymore. I know that use of split infinitives is very widespread and accepted by most authorities on style. Still, it hurts me to see split infinitives because I really do think of infinitives as a single unit, as in languages where they are in fact one word (such as in Spanish). Moreover, there is no real reason that keeping the infinitive verb intact is any less difficult or confusing. I guess I’m a prescriptivist, which helps to explain my interest in metadata standards as well in librarianship. Standard expressions, vocabulary, and formatting are all really important for efficient communication!

Of course, I’m also enamored with word play and with pushing the boundaries of language. But I like such experimentation and flouting of language rules when there is a purpose, not just because the writer is lazy or unconcerned with rules for clear communication. I love poetry, after all, and also the dialogue in Joss Whedon’s tv shows and movies where the characters create new phrases and syntaxes that are wonderful in their coherence and evocation of a different world. But these examples are the opposite of what the blogger linked above advocates, which is purely and simply acquiescence to widespread practice (she is surely a descriptivist) without solid reasoning about why splitting infinitives is really better than keeping infinitives intact. True, she did her research and noted that the major style guides either explicitly condone splitting infinitives or decline to comment on the practice at all, but it’s one thing to note that outright condemnation of split infinitives is no longer common and another to have a good reason for splitting infinitives. The examples of split infinitives that she gives as evidence of better writing don’t really work for me, either, because her claims that placing modifiers before the infinitives changes the meaning of the sentence is something that can be fixed with a better choice of words in the first place.

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