Hear, hear. One of the silliest rules people pass around. I particularly like the way Derek’s examples show how moving the adverb around changes meaning.
I’d add two points. One, “to boldly go” sounds so right because it’s iambic pentameter, one of the most natural rhythms for spoken English (Shakespeare’s meter).
Second, many “rules” like this evolved because 17th- and 18th-century pedants wanted to “improve” English by making it behave like Latin–ignoring the fact that English falls into an entirely different class of language than Latin. But hey, if Latin (one-word) infinitives can’t be split, we shouldn’t split English infinitives, either, even if they are two words.
Thanks to the Story Reading Ape for sharing this useful post!
Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog
on Just Publishing Advice:
Almost every style guide will tell you should avoid the split infinitive.
But is this generalised rule always valid?
We all know the famous Star Trek example of breaking the rule: to boldly go where no man has gone before.
It would sound awkward if I applied good English grammar. My grammar checker correction says it should read: to go where no man has gone before boldly.
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Caution: Grammar Police!
Still on my “grammar rules” kick, but this is pure glee.
The 2019 American Copy Editors Society Conference!
As reported in The New Yorker. See what you now can and cannot do!
I’ve weighed in on this very issue of grammar rules you may not really need! And here, for example. Many so-called rules come from dubious historical sources and, in use in context, are judgment calls. English isn’t Latin. It can’t be like Latin. Thanks, Jean Cogdell, for sharing and reminding us to make “good” use of the “rules.”
Do we throw them out?
Or do we realize some rules are made to be broken?
Hooray! At last, a common sense post about what to do about hard and fast rules that make no sense in this day and time.
Here is my take on her 6 rules:
- Ending sentences with a preposition.
- Guilty, but I didn’t know this rule was attributed to Winston Churchill
- Starting sentences with a conjunction.
- Oh yes, guilty. This gem was apparently courtesy of teachers in the 19th century.
- Sentence fragments.
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This column is near and dear to my heart. I’ve posted on dangling modifiers before, and I see them all the time in my critique groups.
A couple of thoughts:
First, the aversion to “splitting infinitives” comes from an 18th-century spurt of wishfulness that English could be elevated to the status of Latin—in which infinitives are one word and can’t be “split.” Note that in Romance languages like French and Spanish, this still holds true; how can you “split” an infinitive like “hablar”? But English is not a Romance language, despite having picked up many words from French, Spanish, and Italian, in particular. So those “rules” never rightly applied.
Second, note that “to boldly go” is in iambic pentameter, Shakespeare’s meter, and a natural meter in English. That’s why “to go boldly” just doesn’t have the same ring.
Dangling modifiers, on the other hand, cause problems for me because there’s a brief mental hiccup when the modifier has to hunt for its appropriate noun or pronoun. Sure, I can figure out who or what is doing the action of the modifier, but do writers really want readers stopping, even for a second, to puzzle?
This column is clear and concise, presenting these issues well. Thanks to both Chris the Story Reading Ape and Adirondack Editing.
Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog
Originally posted as the Dun Writin’—Now Whut? series on this blog, EDITING 101 is a weekly refresher series for some of you and brand new for others.
Split Infinitives and Dangling Participles
Editors frequently correct both of these, but one is actually ok to use, while the other is not. Care to make a wager on which one is which before I get started?
What is a split infinitive, after all? It’s a sentence where a word, usually an adverb, interrupts a full verb (or full infinitive). A full infinitive is the verb with the word “to” in front of it—to run, to walk, to spit. The most famous split infinitive is “to boldly go.” Editors and teachers used to mark this as incorrect, but it’s all right to split an infinitive. Some examples are:
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Here’s my take on this article:
I agree with this post: what to do with infinitives is a judgment call. Some observations:
In the 18th century, pundits thought English needed to be more like Latin, a “more mature” language. You can’t split an infinitive in Latin (nor in Romance languages like French or Spanish–such languages have one-word infinitives). But since English needed to emulate Latin, its two-word infinitive needed to be treated like a Latin one-word infinitive. So there. Obviously English is a very different language from Latin–it’s not a Romance language at all, it’s Germanic–so following a rule meant for a Romance language doesn’t make sense.
Second, one reason “to boldly go” sounds so good is that placing “boldly” within the infinitive creates an iambic phrase: ././ Iambic is the “natural” meter for English; it’s Shakespeare’s meter, for example. It just plain has a ring.
So place your adverbs wherever you think they create that ring. (And don’t eschew adverbs universally, either. They have important roles in prose.)