What Are Split Infinitives? (with Examples)

Split Infinitive

A split infinitive occurs when a verb in its infinitive form (e.g., to think, to laugh) has an adverb between the to and the verb (e.g., to really think, to wholeheartedly laugh).

split infinitive example

Easy Examples of Split Infinitives

In these examples, the adverb splitting the infinitive is in bold.
  • to really try
  • to further develop
  • to covertly monitor
  • to more than quadruple

Real-Life Examples of Split Infinitives

  • We need criminals to identify ourselves with, to secretly envy and to stoutly punish. They do for us the forbidden, illegal things we wish to do. (Psychiatrist Karl A. Menninger)
  • To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer. (Biologist Paul R. Ehrlich)

Why Should I Care about Split Infinitives?

Here are some observations on split infinitives.

You're okay to split an infinitive. But, does everyone agree?

A split infinitive is often the most succinct, accurate, and natural-sounding way to convey your idea. There's bit of an issue with the split infinitive though. Without any real justification, some people (and it's not an insignificant percentage) regard the split infinitive as non-standard English or even a grammar mistake. It's neither. It's perfectly acceptable.

But, your knowing a split infinitive is acceptable doesn't change their understanding. So, the question we all face is whether to avoid a split infinitive because some of our readers will think it's wrong? I'd say no. But, hey, I like to live on the edge. However, you might want to play it safe, in which case, you could try rewording your sentence. If you've ever tried that, you'll know that sentences reworded to avoid a split infinitive often sound contrived or give a different emphasis.

Here's the final advice: if you feel your reworded sentence doesn't scan right, just use the split infinitive. You'll have given a respectful (albeit unseen) nod to those who don't like split infinitives, but you'll also have contributed to burying this wrong once and for all.

A good tip

You should think of a split infinitive as an ever-so-slightly risky grammatical construction. This is a safe process:

(1) Write your split infinitive.
(2) Let that little alarm bell go off in your head.
(3) Relocate the "offending" adverb outside the infinitive.
(4) If the new version reads worse than the split infinitive, revert to the split infinitive. If the new version reads equally as well as the split infinitive, avoid the split infinitive.

Let's try one:
StepExample
(1) Write your split infinitive. The trick is to actually lift it.
(2) Let that little alarm bell go off in your head. The trick is to actually lift it.
(3) Relocate the "offending" adverb outside the infinitive. Option 1: The trick is actually to lift it.
Option 2: The trick is to lift it actually.
(4) If the new version(s) reads worse than the split infinitive, revert to the split infinitive. If the new version(s) reads equally as well as the split infinitive, avoid the split infinitive. The trick is to actually lift it.

(Stick with the split infinitive, if you prefer it to the alternatives.

Splitting an infinitive might score you some points

Using a split infinitive (provided it flows well) can make you look confident, especially if your readers know you're sufficiently grammar savvy to have done it deliberately.

Star Trek's "to boldly go" wasn't changed.

We can't have an entry on split infinitives without talking about Star Trek.
  • "Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before."
  • (Introductory speech of the original series of Star Trek)
Ever since the 60s when it debuted, Star Trek has been slammed for including a split infinitive in the introductory speech. It is therefore interesting to note that when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" launched in 1987, the updated version of the speech replaced "Its five-year mission" with "Its continuing mission" and "where no man has gone before" with "where no one has gone before". The much criticised "To boldly go" stayed. And, with good reason. It's fine. Imagine the uproar they'd be if they changed it to "To go boldly". That uproar? That's how okay split infinitives are.

The final word on split infinitives

  • It is perfectly correct to consciously split an infinitive whenever such an act increases the strength or clarity of your sentence. (Journalist Norman Lewis)
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited and printed to create exercise worksheets.

See Also

What is the infinitive form of a verb? What is the base form of a verb? What are adverbs? What are adverbial phrases? Glossary of grammatical terms