Share this Page URL

Chapter 10. Dazed and Confused: Common U... > The Good, the Bad, the Ugly - Pg. 102

Dazed and Confused: Common Usage Dilemmas 102 People who feel strongly about their split infinitives really feel strongly about their split infinitives. A famous New Yorker cartoon shows Captain Bligh sailing away from the Bounty in a rowboat and shouting, "So Mr. Christian! You propose to unceremoniously cast me adrift?" The caption beneath the cartoon reads: "The crew can no longer tolerate Captain Bligh's ruthless splitting of infinitives." You Could Look It Up A split infinitive occurs when an adverb or adverbial phrase is placed between to and the verb. Even though some people get their pencils bent out of shape over this matter, there is no authori- tative grammar and usage text that expressly forbids it. Famous writers have been splitting their infinitives with abandon for centuries. George Bernard Shaw, the brilliant Irish playwright, once sent this letter to the Times of London: "There is a busybody on your staff who devotes a lot of time to chasing split infinitives: I call for the immediate dismissal of this pedant. It is of no consequence whether he decides to go quickly or to quickly go or quickly to go. The important thing is that he should go at once." What should you do? While I do not advocate that you go around town splitting infinitives with abandon, there's no point in mangling a sentence just to avoid a split infinitive. Good writers occa- sionally split infinitives to create emphasis, achieve a natural word order, and avoid confusion. If