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#3612 - 06/23/00 02:21 PM Splitting infinitives
Verbist Offline
stranger

Registered: 06/23/00
Posts: 4
Loc: Northern CA
Splitting infinitives

I just finished reading a small book on the English language. It’s called "Mother Tongue, The English language and how it got that way". In the section about grammar is poses the point "What is wrong with Splitting infinitives" and then it comes to the conclusion; "I cannot find any particular reason why we cannot split out infinitives".

I was wondering on all of your feeling on this subject.

-Justin

ps, sorry about my spelling/grammar. Its never been my strong point.



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#3613 - 06/23/00 02:43 PM Re: Splitting infinitives
ammelah Offline
stranger

Registered: 06/22/00
Posts: 18
Loc: Vienna, Austria
On the question of split infinitives I think that Strunk and White have sound advice to give: trust your ear. In their view, "the split infinitive is another trick of rhetoric in which the ear must be quicker than the handbook. Some infinitives seem to improve on being split, just as a stick of round stovewood does." (What a nice analogy.) Their example is: "I cannot bring myself to really like the fellow." They regard this sentence as more relaxed and natural than the un-split alternative, and I agree. In addition, splitting the infinitive calls attention to the adverb, which can be a desired effect. My example: "...to boldly go where no man has gone before..."


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#3614 - 06/23/00 02:48 PM Re: Splitting infinitives
AnnaStrophic Offline
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Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 6511
Loc: lower upstate New York
Interesting you should cite Bill Bryson. We've been talking about his books on several boards here.
I avoid splitting infinitives, but it's not a sacred thing to me. If splitting an infinitive is less clumsy ("to boldly go..." in lieu of "boldly to go..."), I'll happily split away. I have a feeling this rule stems from Victorian grammarians who tried to impose Latin grammar on English. Latin infinitives (and those of most of its descendants) are, by nature of their being single words, unsplittable.


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#3615 - 06/23/00 02:50 PM Re: Splitting infinitives
AnnaStrophic Offline
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Registered: 03/15/00
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ammelah, interesting that we both chose Star Trek to illustrate our point!


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#3616 - 06/23/00 03:10 PM Re: Splitting infinitives
ammelah Offline
stranger

Registered: 06/22/00
Posts: 18
Loc: Vienna, Austria
AnnaStrophic -- interesting, yes, but had we both come up with a literary quote I would have been happier. Maybe someone else can help us out here?


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#3617 - 06/23/00 04:58 PM Re: Splitting infinitives
tsuwm Offline
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Registered: 04/03/00
Posts: 10521
Loc: this too shall pass
I'm going to quickly jump in with a link to alt.usage.english which has a discussion on this subject:
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/alt-usage-english-faq/

The discussion closes with the following:
Hardly any serious commentator believes that infinitives should never be split. The dispute is between those who believe that split infinitives should be avoided when this can be done with no sacrifice of clarity or naturalness, and those who believe that no effort whatever should be made to avoid them.

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#3618 - 06/23/00 08:22 PM Re: Splitting infinitives
Verbist Offline
stranger

Registered: 06/23/00
Posts: 4
Loc: Northern CA
Thanks everyone. If you want to see a few split infinitives you might want to read Mark Twain :-)


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#3619 - 06/24/00 12:19 AM Re: Splitting infinitives
Bingley Offline
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Registered: 04/09/00
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I'm at work now and the book's at home so I can't give the precise reference, but David Crystal's Encyclopaedia of the English Language has a hilarious skit from Punch on the subject of split infinitives.

Bingley
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Bingley

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#3620 - 06/24/00 08:29 AM Re: Splitting infinitives
paulb Offline
addict

Registered: 03/17/00
Posts: 460
Loc: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Our good friend Fowler has several entertaining columns on split infinitives, and ends with a wonderful example 'borrowed' from a reviewer:

‘A book … of which the purpose is thus — with a deafening split infinitive — stated by its author: "Its main idea is to historically, even while events are maturing, and divinely — from the Divine point of view — impeach the European system of Church and States".’



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#3621 - 06/24/00 09:30 AM Re: Splitting infinitives
Bingley Offline
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The promised reference is page 86.

Bingley
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Bingley

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#3622 - 06/27/00 03:43 PM Re: Splitting infinitives
patatty Offline
stranger

Registered: 03/20/00
Posts: 19
Loc: Orange County Calif.
Paul -
Let me second, with enthusiasm, your suggestion to eagerly :-) consult Fowler. His treatment of the subject has been on my list of all-time favorites for decades.
I urge my fellow United Statesians to temporarily ;) put aside any reluctance to use a tome on *English* usage: the passages on Split Infinitives alone are worth the price of admission.
As I recall from distant memory, Fowler groups the reasonably literate universe into four types of reactors: those who a) Know what a split infinitive is, and don't care; b)Know and care; c) Don't know and don't care; and d) Don't know and care very much. It's that last group that is the nitpicking bane of competent writers. His treatment is rich with examples.
If the foregoing is an accurate remembrance, I put myself in a category between a) and b). It's not that I don't care, it's that although I can always recognize an infinitive, I will choose for myself whether and when to split it.
Patatty.


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#3623 - 06/28/00 12:33 AM Re: Splitting infinitives
Bingley Offline
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Registered: 04/09/00
Posts: 3065
Loc: Jakarta
I think Fowler's categories were something like: 1) those who don't know and don't care, 2) those who don't know but care very much, 3) those who know and don't like them, 4) those who know and like them, and 4) those who know and differentiate. He also said the first category was the largest and the most to be envied, or something along those lines. Patatty, it sounds like you come in group 5; I hope I do as well.

Bingley
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Bingley

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#3624 - 06/28/00 08:01 AM Re: Splitting infinitives
paulb Offline
addict

Registered: 03/17/00
Posts: 460
Loc: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
For Patatty and Bingley and interested onlookers, Mr Fowler in his own words (or Gowers's?):

The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn (contemn? grin); (4) those who know and approve; and (5) those who know and distinguish.

He says that those in group (1) are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes.

He chiefly addresses his comments to those in group (2).

Group (3) he says are bogy-haunted creatures …

Group (4) are not distinguishable with certainty.

Group (5) will split infinitives sooner than be ambiguous or artificial.

But, as Patatty says, you really have to read his comments (and examples) in full to get the flavour. As he says, "the author's opinion has perhaps been allowed to appear with indecent plainness".


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#3625 - 06/28/00 09:15 AM Re: Splitting infinitives
Jackie Online   content

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11609
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
patatty--
I don't think I've seen "United Statesian" before. Odd but
clear. Good to see you posting again.


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#3626 - 06/28/00 04:52 PM Re: Splitting infinitives
jmh Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 03/22/00
Posts: 1981
It looks like my "New Fowler's Modern English Usage" - R W Burchfield, Oxford 1999 has decided to sadly omit the discussion shown above.

He says "No other grammatical discussion has so divided the nation since the split infinitive was declared to be a solecism in the course of the 19C."

There is a wonderful section with examples from the 13C to today with writers from Chaucer to Peter Carey, Iris Murdoch and Kingsley Amis.

Not surprisingly, his final quote from "The Spoken Word", Burchfield 1981, wins the day "Avoid splitting infinitives wherever possible, but do not suffer undue remorse if a split infinitive is unavoidable for the natural and unambiguous completion of a sentence already begun".

Sounds like (5) to me!


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#3627 - 06/29/00 05:50 AM Re: Splitting infinitives
Bridget Offline
addict

Registered: 06/27/00
Posts: 444
Loc: Sydney Australia
I remember it made the papers (in Canada, where I was at the time) when the authorities in Oxford published their updated tome on English usage and approved of split infinitives.

I think this is a case of language evolving. If the meaning is clear, who cares? (But as I am still evolving too, I split them all the time in speech and try to avoid doing so when writing!)


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#3628 - 06/29/00 02:02 PM Re: Splitting infinitives
tsuwm Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 04/03/00
Posts: 10521
Loc: this too shall pass
from a news story at the time:

The change is included in the new Oxford American Desk Dictionary, which came out [in October '98]. Frank Abate, editor in chief of Oxford's U.S. dictionaries program in Old Saybrook, says the rule is arbitrary. The rule has its basis in Latin, and as Abate points out, we don't speak Latin.


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