Writing Style – Split Infinitives

BizWritingTip reader: “In a previous BizWritingTip, you wrote: ‘He said he liked to only read in his native language.’ I believe its placement should appear as follows: ‘He said he liked to read only in his native language.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: Thank you for the feedback. However, I really liked splitting my infinitive in this sentence.

An infinitive is a verb with the word “to” in front of it.

Examplesof an infinitive
To read
To write
To excel

The rules for English were based on Latin. In Latin, the infinitive is a single word. So when the monks were establishing the rules for written language, they came up with the idea that it was bad form to split an infinitive when translating Latin into English.

Examplesof split infinitives
To only read
To quickly write
To easily excel

This rule — not to split an infinitive — is now considered out of date although there are many people who still defend it. In fact, some GMAT, SAT, and TOEFL tests still check for it.

However, in business writing, splitting an infinitive is permitted as it sounds conversational. I know when I speak I would normally say, “to only read,” rather than “to read only.” That’s why I chose to write it that way.

By the way, do you remember the most famous example of a split infinitive? Think back to the opening credits of the old television show Star Trek: These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission — to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Would Captain James Tiberius Kirk have been as triumphant if he had been told “to go boldly”?