Training professionals to write and speak effectively.
View this email in your browser

The generational split on infinitives


Quick quiz: What sitting Supreme Court justice had this to say about split infinitives (and other matters): “Each time I see a split infinitive, an inconsistent tense structure, or the unnecessary use of the passive voice, I blister.”

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.
 
But the debate over split infinitives is still alive and well, as the justice’s comments attest. A post at the charming blog Sentence First, An Irishman’s Blog on the English Language sums things up tidily: “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.”

So what’s a writer to do? I’m inclined to say go ahead, split all you want, but that’s ignoring the realities of legal practice. The reason? A stalwart number of, shall we say, senior attorneys and judges persist in condemning infinitive splitters. That’s why I like to politely refer to the split on split infinitives as a “generational divide.” (Catch that split infinitive?)

But it’s not just a bunch of dinosaurs condemning splitters. The justice who blisters at the sight of a split infinitive? It’s Sonia Sotomayor.

Do I dare to disagree with her? On this, I do.
 
Would I want her (or any other judge) questioning my credibility because I’ve tried to elegantly split an infinitive, when I could have avoided it? I would not.
 
So here’s my advice. Split with care. Follow the golden rule of writing: know your audience. You’re writing a brief for the Supreme Court? Don’t do it. You’re writing a memo for a partner who’s a fan of plain English? Split to your heart’s content. 
Our clients are AmLaw 100 firms, global companies, and government agencies. We help lawyers and other professionals communicate with confidence and polish.

Rosky Legal Education offers these services:
Contact us
Visit our website