The House of Grammar is a large, foreboding and confusing place. It has myriad rooms and more uncharted secret passageways than a game of Clue. Indeed, the House of Grammar is haunted—filled with myths, half-truths and downright fabrications that have the ability to leave you curled in the fetal position on the floor. As a writer, you have to be very prepared for what you may find when you enter the House of Grammar. And you must also have a bit of courage, a healthy amount of nerve and be in control of your gag reflex if you decide to venture in too deep.
Think I am being dramatic?
Still, on my last trip into the House of Grammar, I made some interesting findings. What’s more is I discovered that some myths are nothing but that, and other “rules” deserve to be cast to the sands of time.
R.I.P. Rule: Don’t split an infinitive
If it’s been a while since you learned the tenets of grammar in a classroom, an infinitive is a verb in its simplest form. Usually, you can recognize an infinitive by the word that is used in front of it. For instance, The man helped his brother to escape from prison. The “to,” in this instance, isn’t necessary, as you could say, The man helped his brother escape. The “to” is a preposition and it allows readers to realize that an infinitive is next up in a sentence.
So ultimately, the phrase “split infinitive” is very misleading, as the word “to” isn’t actually part of the infinitive; therefore, there is nothing to split. But a sentence can sound better when there does happen to be a “to” close to an infinitive, and there is no harm done if you choose to place a separator in between them via a descriptive word or two. For instance: Mary decided to strongly oppose management’s decision.
It also needs to be said that this isn’t a new trend and indeed, splitting infinitives is an old ghost in the House of Grammar. In all actuality, it has been a thing since the 1300s and only became some sort of grammar “crime” (not an exaggeration) when a Latin scholar by the name of Henry Alford labeled it a serious no-no in the book, “A Plea for the Queen’s English.” However, there is also history here, and old Henry might have just been following what he knew to be proper Latin grammar. You see, the Victorians, as a group of very proper people, were incredibly fond of the Latin language, mostly because they saw themselves as the intellectual heirs to the Roman Empire, which yes, primarily spoke Latin. My point here is that in Latin, it is impossible to divide an infinitive, or so I have researched.
I’ll be the first to point out that you should never have me edit your Latin language documents—that would be a huge mistake.
So getting back to taking infinitives to splitsville, grammarians have ruled that it is fine to do this, but as with all things, it should be done in moderation. For instance, as an editor, I would shorten this sentence with absolute glee: Mary decided to strongly and without further delay stand up and voice her ire and oppose management’s decision.
I’ll be writing more on Grammar Tombstones in the future. In the meantime, I invite you to visit the new Grammar Chic, Inc. website and follow our team on Twitter @GrammarChicInc.