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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. 
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