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Split Infinitives

Split infinitives are a specific type of misplaced modifier.

Incorrect: She decided to instantly quit her job.

An infinitive is a verb preceded by the word to: (to write, to examine, to take, to cooperate). When an adverb appears between to and the verb itself, we get a split infinitive.

Correcting Split Infinitive Problems

To correct the above sentence, instantly should appear after the verb.

Correct: She decided to quit her job instantly.

Rule to Remember

Split infinitives are a specific type of misplaced modifier.

Split infinitives should be avoided in formal writing.

In formal writing, it is considered bad style to split an infinitive, but in more informal writing or in speech this has become more acceptable.

In speech, the word really is often placed between to and the verb:

Non-standard: It would take incredible strength to really forget all her bad childhood memories.
Awkward: It would take incredible strength to forget really all her bad childhood memories.

Placing really after forget makes the second sentence sound awkward. Really is such a problematic word, it is best to avoid its use in writing and use a more specific adverb.

Some degree adverbs such as completely, entirely, unduly can also create awkward sentences when placed after the verb.

Non-standard: It's hard to completely follow his reasoning.
Awkward: It's hard to follow completely his reasoning.

A better choice here would be to put the adverb completely at the very end of the sentence.

Preferred: It's hard to follow his reasoning completely.

Sometimes avoiding the use of a split infinitive creates ambiguity. Consider the following examples:

Non-standard: The patient was told to occasionally monitor her blood sugar level.
Correct: The patient was told occasionally to monitor her blood sugar level.
Correct: The patient was told to monitor her blood sugar level occasionally.

In the second sentence, occasionally modifies the verb told and, in fact, alters the meaning of the sentence. However, placing occasionally at the end of the sentence creates ambiguity; does it modify the verb told now or the verb monitor?

The best position of the modifier occasionally is right after the verb monitor as in:

Correct: The patient was told to monitor occasionally her blood sugar level.

In formal writing, sentences in which there is more than one element in the infinitive phrase should be avoided:

Non-standard: Our company decided to legally and rightfully seek damages for fraudulent use of the company documents.

Sometimes it may be necessary to rephrase the sentence to maintain the correct form and meaning:

Preferred: Our company decided to seek damages in a legal and rightful way for fraudulent use of the company documents.

Or

Preferred: Legally and rightfully, our company decided to seek damages for fraudulent use of the company documents.

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