Split Infinitives: Should or Shouldn't You Avoid Them?

Look at this sentence:

Jim tried to carefully talk to his friends about the mishap, but he failed miserably.

This sentence uses an awkward grammatical construction called a split infinitive—one in which the adverb (carefully) splits the infinitive (to talk). That sentence looks rather weird due to the use of it. Here other examples:

Sarah, I have to firmly ask you to go out.
The shower trickled as a first step to slowly run out.

Why Should You Avoid It?

You obviously wouldn't say: "I have to hard work to achieve my ambition", when you mean "I have to work hard to achieve my ambition". Here, the word 'hard' is the adverb modifying 'work'. Using a split infinitive in this case looks rather awkward.

So definitely, you have to avoid split infinitives in your writing. Several grammarians today argue that split infinitives are no longer a mistake, or it is a myth that split infinitive is a mistake. But good writers should definitely avoid sentences like the above.

When It Is Inevitable?

AskOxford's this post on split infinitive points us to a phrase:
To boldly go where no man has gone before!

It is a classic example of why we cannot avoid split infinitives in certain situations. Their explanation is thus:

In the example above, to avoid the split infinitive would result either in weakness (to go boldly) or over-formality (boldly to go): either would ruin the rhythmic force and rhetorical pattern of the original.

Yes, indeed in the mentioned example, split infinitive seems to be necessary. But there is possibility of rewriting the entire phrase as:
Boldly going to where no man has been before!


My suggestion is that you avoid split infinitives as much as possible. In situations, where split infinitives are unavoidable, however, try to rewrite the entire sentence.

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

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