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Split infinitives : are they acceptable?

To split or not to split, that is the question ?

Q: Is it acceptable to split infinitives in English? 

A. Absolutely, as long as you are careful

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In many cases, there is absolutely no reason at all for banning the use of a split infinitive. On the contrary, there are cases in which it is virtually essential to split infinitives, unless you want to resort to a long and cumbersome periphrase.
  The most famous split infinitive of modern times is the classic introduction to the Star Trek TV series, which went:
These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, its 5 year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
In this case the split infinitive is not essential; the text could have said "to go boldly", so in this case there is no compelling reason to use a split infinitive. In other cases, there is. Look at this example.
The doctors decided to rapidly stop administering the pain-killers.
It is not possible to put the word rapidly anywhere else in the sentence without either making it ambiguous, or else changing the meaning. Compare these examples
  1. The doctors decided to rapidly stop administering the pain-killers.
  2. Rapidly the doctors decided to  stop administering the pain-killers.
  3. The doctors decided rapidly to  stop administering the pain-killers.
  4. The doctors decided to  stop rapidly administering the pain-killers.
  5. The doctors decided to  stop administering the pain-killers rapidly..
The only way in this example to avoid the split infinitive while not changing the meaning is to write a longer periphrase:
The doctors decided they would rapidly stop administering the pain killers.
In 19th and early 20th century English, styles of writing were generally more complex and cumbersome than they are today, so even if there were no intrinsic reason to say that split infinitives were bad grammar, the so-called rule was accepted.
   Modern English is very different. . Besides, even in the 19th century, there was no real historic reason for calling the split infinitive "bad grammar", and split infinitives can be found in English from the Middle Ages onwards. Admittedly, they are not terribly common, but then it is not often that there is a real need to use a split infinitive.

Great writers and split infinitives

Until the twentieth century, even more so than today, split infinitives were uncommon; but great writers used them from time to time. Here is Daniel Defoe in 1725:
“They had indeed some boats in the river, but they ... served to just waft them over, or to fish in them"
And here is Samuel Johnson himself, writing about Milton in 1781.
 “Milton was too busy to much miss his wife"
  It is often said that Shakespeare never used split infinitives, but he did so at least once, in Sonnet 142.
 “Root pity in thy heart, that when it grows / Thy pity may deserve to pitied be."
   From the 19th century onwards, writers resorted more and more often to using split infinitives; Abraham Lincoln used them, so did Wordsworth, Henry James and Robert Burns – and many more too.

Why do some people objected to split infinitives ?

It seems to be because at the time of the first English grammar books, from the late 16th century onwards, grammarians were all classical scholars.  Until the 18th century , "education" included a strong grounding in the classics, including Latin grammar, so the first attempts to describe English grammar reflected principles of Latin grammar, and in Latin as in Greek, splitting an infinitive really is impossible, since the infinitive is a single word (as in amare or legere).  
   In the nineteenth century, traditional grammars continued to claim that splitting infinitives was bad grammar; but writers, notably in the developing medium of journalism, were using them more and more. Since the early twentieth century, it has become more or less accepted, except by very conservative commentators, that split infinitives are not just acceptable, but in some cases unavoidable.  And why not?  An infinitive is a verb form, and in English most verb forms contain two words which can, and in some cases must, be split.

Split infinitives are a perfectly normal structure

Most verbs in English contain at least two elements: an auxiliiary of some sort, and either a short infinitive or a participle. Let's call them V1 and V2. The full infinitive is another example of this, with the difference that the first element is not an auxiliary, but the particle to
I am eating
He has spoken
They will come
I can't understand
We were beaten
The lady was singing
I must go....
The children don't sing
 to miss his wife
 For all of these structures, apart from the infinitive, splitting V1 from V2 is and always has been perfectly acceptable with certain adverbs. Only the final example has ever been contested.
I am actually eating
He has sometimes spoken
They will certainly come
I can't really understand
We were soundly beaten
The lady was apparently singing
I must often go....
The children don't actually sing
to much miss his wife
The final example is the phrase used by Dr. Johnson, quoted above, who wrote "Milton was too busy to much miss his wife."

So to the question, "Is it OK to split infinitives ?"  the answer is certainly yes... if you need to. In the twenty-first century, few but the most pedantic and backward-looking of critics still adhere to the belief that split infinitives are wrong. They're not; and indeed they never really have been.

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