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split infinitives revisited

September 19, 2017

In yesterday’s Daily Mirror, political commentator Kevin Maguire came up with the following avoidably ugly construction: “whether it [the Corbynite camp] seeks radically to reform permanently the party constitution…”

seeks radically to reform permanently”? What is going on there? I will answer my own question: what is going on there is ostentatious avoidance of that absurd shibboleth, the split infinitive. Maguire isn’t just avoiding it; he’s crossing the road to get away from it; he’s leaving town. Why not “seeks to radically, permanently reform the party constitution”? (If he must have two adverbs.) Wouldn’t that sound far more natural?

The “rule” against splitting infinitives has always perplexed and annoyed me. I don’t see the point of it. I have read that it is frowned on because the construction does not occur in Latin. But the construction could not occur in Latin; in Latin the infinitive is formed of a single word. One might as well say, let’s never use the letter w , because the Romans never used it. Why take Latin as our model, anyway? We’re writing English.

Simon Heffer in Simple English writes that he is against split infinitives because they are “inelegant”. Really? Maguire’s mangling of the English language sounds far more inelegant to me than putting the adverb in its natural place, ie before the verb it qualifies. I advise you all to happily split infinitives whenever you feel like it.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

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4 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    Maybe a dread fear of splitting infinitives is the reason footballers, unlike Captain Kirk, never use adverbs.

  2. Easy. Split infinitives ARE ugly; so are adverbs at times. Why not write ‘Whether it seeks a radical and permanent reform of….’?

    • I don’t agree that split infinitives are ugly; I am not even sure why we have the concept of a split infinitive (why is there no such concept as a split participle, if we are to have split infinitives? “I have completely forgotten” also separates the two parts of a verb; why is that not stigmatised, if split infinitives are to be stigmatised?).

      However, I do agree that there are more elegant ways of avoiding split infinitives, if one is determined to do so, than the way chosen by Kevin Maguire; and your way sounds fine to me.

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