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Is It Wrong to Ever Split an Infinitive?

An infinitive is a particular verb form which expresses the verbal idea in its simplest form. It has no marking for tense, person or mood. In English, the infinitive is the verb form which can immediately follow a modal auxiliary verb like should or must.

  • I should go now.
  • We will wait.

An infinitive can also follow the particle to.

  • I want to go.
  • We will have to wait.

Many people have, however, gained the false impression that infinitives are forms like to write and to go. This view is mistaken and learners should realize that that to does not form part of the infinitive at all. In fact, it is possible to separate the to from the following infinitive by a phrase. For example in the sentence ‘The teacher asked the student to carefully read the lesson’, the adverb carefully separates the particle to from the following infinitive read. Similarly in the sentence ‘She decided to never touch another beer can’, the adverb never separates the particle to from the infinitive touch. Here the sequences ‘to carefully read’ and ‘to never touch’ are examples of the split infinitive. Many grammarians still feel that it is wrong to separate the particle from the following infinitive. They are of the opinion that the adverb should be used either before to after the infinitive as in the following example: The teacher asked the student to read the lesson carefully.

In some sentences, however, the intervening adverb cannot be shifted to another position without changing the meaning of the sentence.

For example consider the sentence ‘She wishes to really understand his motives’. Now try changing the position of the adverb really:

  • She really wishes to understand his motives.
  • She wishes really to understand his motives.
  • She wishes to understand really his motives.

None of these sentences means the same thing as: She wishes to really understand his motives.

The use of split infinitives in such cases has been justified by modern grammarians.

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See Also
Order of Words in a Sentence


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