Friday, October 12, 2012

31 Days: Day 12 — To split or not to split.

This has been a good day.

First, let me just say how much I love Michael at the Genius Bar. He speaks my language and does not laugh at my stupid questions. He explains how my computer works in terms I can totally understand. And he saved me lots of money and fixed my clicker for free. I'm a happy girl.

Furthermore, my friend Kelly, whose family owns the farm where I get my milk, eggs, chicken, and beef, recently published a book of photographs of all the farm operations, and guess whose photo of the adorable calf made the cover!

You didn't know I had so many hidden talents, did you?

But enough about me. On to grammar.

I was sorely tempted to bag on the Southerners again today based on a construction I hear ALL. THE. TIME. but decided I would approach that on a day when I'd had more sleep. Today we're going to talk about the split infinitive.

First, let's find out what an infinitive is. An infinitive consists of the word to plus the simple form of a verb:

to see, to jump, to feel, to live, to laugh, to cry, to be

You get the idea. And now you know that Shakespeare loved his infinitives. Here are a few infinitive phrases:

to kick the ball; to pet the dog; to swim laps; to paint the house; to be satisfied

What you may not know is this: even though it contains a verb form, an infinitive is NOT used as a verb.

1.) An infinitive phrase can function as a noun:

Mansquared's goal is to eat more food than anyone else.

To eat more food than anyone else functions as a noun—in this case it is a predicate noun; it is what Mansquared's goal is.

2.) An infinitive phrase can function as an adjective:

Cooking is the best way to win a man.

The phrase to win a man is used as an adjective. It tells what kind of way.

3.) An infinitive phrase can function as an adverb:

Study to shew thyself approved.

The phrase to shew thyself approved is used as an adverb. It tells why you study.

(When you're looking for an infinitive, be careful not to confuse it with a prepositional phrase that begins with to: to the store, to my home, etc.)

Now that you know what an infinitive is, let's take it a step further. A split infinitive takes an infinitive and shoves an adverb between the to and the bare verb:

to neatly paint; to quickly run

That's it. No big deal, right? So why all the hoopla over split infinitives?

There are different theories as to the origin of the no-split-infinitives rule, but basically it appears that the rule comes from the Victorian thought that, since you couldn't split infinitives in Latin, you shouldn't split them in English either. They were true prescriptivists back then.

Then the Puritans made their way to America, caution got thrown to the wind, and the English language has been taking a nosedive ever since. So what it comes down to is this: if you feel like throwing an adverb in the middle of your infinitive, split with no guilt. We won our independence from the infinitive police in the 1700s.

By the way, this phrase from the beginning voiceover of StarTrek may be the world's most famous split infinitive:

To boldly go where no man has gone before . . .

Now try saying it this way:

To go boldly where no man has gone before . . . 


Boldly to go where no man has gone before . . .

Doesn't have the same ring, does it? Sometimes you just have to split.
Be thankful ~

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great lesson today! Thank you and glad to hear that you had a better day.