January 27, 2008

A few weeks ago I had to write a very delicate business e-mail. I was going along fine–it had taken me a couple hours, but I felt good about what I’d written–when all of a sudden I stopped short in the middle of the last sentence.

I tentatively typed seven words to finish the sentence. It didn’t work. It was grammatically correct, but it meant something very slightly different that what I needed to convey.

I moved one of the words to another position in the sentence. It still didn’t express my meaning exactly. And the sentence really was a vital part of the communication.

So I took a deep breath, moved the word I’d moved before to yet another position, read the paragraph over to confirm that the sentence now conveyed exactly what I needed to say, closed my eyes, and clicked send.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of the first time I split an infinitive.

I haven’t quite recovered yet.

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16 Responses to A few weeks ago I had to write a very delicate business e

  1. Andy says:

    I had a comment but it was retarded so I ate it. I think splitting infinitives is fine. Just please don’t ever end a sentence with a preposition.

  2. campbell says:

    Relax. ‘Fowler’s English Usage’is quite clear on the matter. Split infinitives as a stylistic tick are to be avoided, if, however, meaning cannot be conveyed without splitting or it is used as a rhetorical device (it’s a form of hyperbaton according to Wikipedia) then it perfectly allowable.

    After all, grammar is about clarity and if a rule, particularly one as arbitrary as this, comes between the reader/listener and meaning then the rule must go.

  3. lee says:

    And just when I thought you had no virginity left to lose.

  4. Jeff says:

    You know that the “no split infinitives” rule is a moldy outdated legacy of Latin, right?

  5. TED says:

    Oh, the humanity!

  6. Eric says:

    There, there, hon. It always hurts the first time. The best part, though, is that it gets easier and easier the more you do it.

  7. Aaron says:

    I’m with Andy. Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will no longer put.

  8. Travis says:

    Yegods. When I read posts like this I remember that I am indeed an uneducated yokel. 😉

    Split an infinitive once in a while, honeybunch. The world won’t end. 😉

  9. Joe says:

    Today you are a man, my son.

  10. Sarah says:

    On the topic of outdated rules coming from Latin, the “don’t end a sentence with a preposition” thing is one of those, too. I still find them uncomfortable to say, but the descriptive linguist in me has to pipe up every so often.

  11. JamesR says:

    Split infinitives happen…

  12. TED says:

    People who tell you that you can’t end a sentence with a preposition can suck it. In fact, I have something right here that they can go down on.

  13. Logan says:

    I’m curious about the infinitive and which word had to be in the middle. But more importantly, if what you wanted to say demanded a split infinitive, then they must not be that bad?

  14. birdfarm says:

    “You’ll find that the shame is like the pain: you only feel it once.”
    – Glenn Close as Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons

  15. initials says:

    See? With this last proverbial cherry popped, you are free to lead the masses in 2010! Just try not to cringe terribly much when the language is butchered, and everything should go just fine. Also, I was getting used to the more frequent posts. Now I’m cranky when I need my daily five minute break at the office. (Grrr)

  16. will says:

    If you and my boss got together your babies would be English majors by the age of 4.


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