Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Superstitions (2)

 Today: “Never Split an Infinitive.” o “Anybody who doesn’t wish to see too wide a division between the spoken and the written speech will not be too severe against the split infinitive. A man may write ‘to tell really’ or ‘really to tell,’ but he will probably say ‘to really tell.’ It seems to us that there are phrases in which the split infinitive is the more direct and instinctive form.” “The Split Infinitive” (1898), in Casual Essays of the Sun 238, 240 (1905). o “The practice of inserting an adverb between the infinitive sign [‘to’] and the infinitive has steadily increased during the last hundred years, and goes on increasing still. Even a slight examination of the best and the worst contemporary production, in both England and America, will make clear that the universal adoption of this usage is as certain as anything in the future well can be.” Thomas R. Lounsbury, The Standard of Usage in English 259 (1908). o “The notion that it is a grammatical mistake to place a word between ‘to’ and the simple form of a verb, as in ‘to quietly walk away,’ is responsible for a great deal of bad writing by people who are trying to write well. Actually the rule against ‘splitting an infinitive’ contradicts the principles of English grammar and the practice of our best writers.” Evans & Evans, Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage at 469 (1957). o “There is no point in rearranging a sentence just to avoid splitting an infinitive unless it is an awkward one.” Porter G. Perrin, Writer’s Guide and Index to English 828 (4th ed. 1965). See GMAU, “Split Infinitives (A).” Next: “Never Split a Verb Phrase.”  For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “There is a busybody on your staff who devotes a lot of his time to chasing split infinitives. Every good literary craftsman splits his infinitives when the sense demands it. I call for the immediate dismissal of this pedant. It is of no consequence whether he decides to go quickly or quickly to go or to quickly go. The important thing is that he should go at once.” George Bernard Shaw, Letter to The Times (19th c.) (as quoted in Best Advice on How to Write 259-60 (Gorham Munson ed., 1952)).

1 thought on “Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Superstitions (2)”

  1. A friend of mine argues that it is improper to use adverbs to modify infinitives because infinitives are generally used as nouns, not verbs. I don’t think she’s right, but I’m not sure why. Any thoughts? Thanks!

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