To boldly go to where no split infinitive has been before

November 24th, 2010 by Emily

George Bush Jr was as famous for his misuse of English as he was for his policies. One of his habits was the repeated use of split infinitives - one of the most contentious issues in the English language and one that could so easily be rectified by and English tutor.

Star Trek and split infinitives

Verbs in the English language have a marker, "to", and a bare infinitive, which is the meat of the verb - the word that tells you what it is. For example - to hurry, to come, to go, to eat.

A split infinitive is when a word or phrase comes between the "to" and the bare infinitive. The rule is based on Latin, where verbs consist of only one word and so the infinitive is never split.

Star Trek is responsible for the most famous split infinitive of them all: "To boldly go where no man has gone before." In this case, the word "boldly" comes in between the marker "to" and the bare infinitive "go".

To really hate the split infinitive

Star Trek fans seem to accept that famous phrase quite happily, possibly because the crew of the Starship Enterprise were an intelligent bunch.

However, many linguists detest split infinitives.

Robert Allen, writing in Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage, states: "No other grammatical issue has so divided English speakers since the split infinitive was declared to be a solecism in the 19th century: raise the subject of English usage in any conversation today and it is sure to be mentioned."

Bush's split infinitives

Despite the strong protests of grammarians, split infinitives are becoming more accepted. It is possible that Dubya was scorned for his use of split infinitives because they existed in the context of his general misuse of English.

Because split infinitives are widely used, it can sometimes sound odd if you choose not to use one and in fact better if you do - "to finally see" sounds fine, for example.

Of course, there are some who consider the whole matter ridiculous. As the famous author George Bernard Shaw once said of an editor who messed around with his infinitives: "I don't care if he is made to go quickly, or to quickly go - but go he must!"

To avoid all of this confusion and take a firm grasp of the English language, contact First Tutors today for an English tutor near you.

Categories: English, Advice