The generational split on infinitives

July 13, 2012

in Grammar, Legal writing, Style and usage

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So, lawyers ask me pretty regularly what the deal is with split infinitives. The deal is this: splitting infinitives is perfectly acceptable according to every respected style authority. (Grammar Girl has a nice explanation of what a split infinitive is.)

But (yes, there had to be a but) plenty of very, shall we say, senior attorneys and judges persist in condemning infinitive splitters as unsophisticated writers.  Let’s just say that no one who graduated from law school after 1960 believes that splitting infinitives is incorrect.  That’s why I like to politely refer to the split on split infinitives as a “generational divide.”  (Catch that split infinitive?)

If you’re dying to know more, a recent post on the charming blog Sentence First, An Irishman’s Blog on the English Language lays out the drama, the history, the hot mess that is the debate over split infinitives.

Here’s a taste of Sentence First’s take:

So there’s a rule in English, except it’s not a rule, but some people think it is, and others who know it’s not a rule obey it in case it bothers the people who think it is, even though it can cloud or change the meaning of their prose. Ah, split infinitives: what an unholy mess.

The post also includes these two irresistible quotes on the topic:

  • No other grammatical issue has so divided the nation (Robert Burchfield)
  • When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split (Raymond Chandler)

I’m with Raymond Chandler. If you’re gonna split an infinitive, split an infinitive definitively.

Cartoon by J.B. Handelman, The New Yorker magazine

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