Don't Split Infinitives - Fact or Myth?

Grammarians will often tell you not to split infinitives, but you see writers do it all the time. Is it against the grammar rules or are the grammar teachers off base? Here's the answer.
Author:
Publish date:
Get a FREE download on grammar answering more questions like: who and whom

FREE Download: Grammar Tips

Q: I was taught by my English teachers over the years not to split infinitives, but now I see writers splitting them all the time. What gives? —Anonymous

Growing up, I also had many teachers who taught me not to split infinitives—just as they taught me not to start a sentence with a conjunction. But, as with the conjunction myth, there is actually no rule that says you can’t split infinitives. Let me explain. [Help spread the word — Tweet it!]

An infinitive is a verb form that generally involves two words, the first of which is usually “to”—to run, to write, to somersault, to tickle, etc. Splitting an infinitive means to sneak an adverb in between those two words: I’m going to quickly run to the store.

The most famous of all split infinitives comes from the Star Trek gang: “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” (I wonder if they are able to split infinitives in Klingon, too?)

While you may find some grammar style guides that recommend against it (Garner’s Modern American Usage is one), you’ll be hard-pressed to find any that completely and wholeheartedly ban it. But does that mean you should split infinitives? Probably not.

[Do you underline book titles? Underline them? Put book titles in quotes? Find out here.]

So many people believe the myth (including some editors) that splitting an infinitive in your query letter or pitch may mar the first impression you’re making, even though you’re not actually breaking any rules. The cons of choosing to split infinitives (annoying some editors, being called out by your blog readers for “lazy” writing, etc.) usually outweigh the pros (proving that you know the real rule), so I recommend avoiding it when you can.

I know what you’re thinking: If this isn’t a rule, then why do so many teachers treat it as such? While I can’t get into every teacher’s head, I’m guessing they teach us not to split infinitives because, most of the time, sentences are stronger when infinitives are intact. It’s a teacher’s way of keeping us from bad writing habits.

But if you feel the need to boldly go where few teachers (and editors) have let you go before, you can do so knowing that you’re not breaking any rules. Just be prepared to quickly send them this article when they call you out.

Thanks for visiting The Writer's Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

brian-klems-2013

Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian's free Writer's Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

6 Tools for Writing Nonfiction That Breathes

6 Tools for Writing Nonfiction That Breathes

Nonfiction author Liz Heinecke gives her top 6 tips for crafting a nonfiction book that will really capture your subject.

Flash Fiction Challenge

2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 27

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write something that makes you laugh.

Poetic Forms

Ars Poetica: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at ars poetica and the art of writing poems about poems.

Flash Fiction Challenge

2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 26

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write about an article of clothing.

Authors Share Tips on Writing Mystery and Thriller Novels That Readers Love

23 Authors Share Tips on Writing Mystery and Thriller Novels That Readers Love

23 authors share tips on writing mystery and thriller novels that readers love, covering topics related to building suspense, inserting humor, crafting incredible villains, and figuring out the time of death.

Jaclyn Goldis: From Personal History to Historical Fiction

Jaclyn Goldis: From Personal History to Historical Fiction

Debut author Jaclyn Goldis explains how her novel When We Were Young was inspired by her real-life grandmothers and how many times she rewrote her first chapter.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Forced Decision

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Forced Decision

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, force a character to make a decision.

Flash Fiction Challenge

2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 25

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write about a cryptid.

From the Practical to the Mystic: 7 Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

From the Practical to the Mystic: 7 Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

Bestselling author Erika Robuck provides her top 7 tips for creating an engaging historical fiction novel.