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Old February 16 2013, 04:10 AM   #1
Tiberius
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That split infinitive we all love...

A bit of a rant, and perhaps an observation I haven't seen mentioned anywhere else...

I was reading this book, "Writing the Popular Novel" by Loren Estleman, and in Chapter 4 it talks about common errors in English, including split infinitives. Let's me quote a small section...

Writing the Popular Novel wrote:
Split infinitives are also endemic today. "To be" and "to do" are infinitives, and one separates them at rhythm's peril. I like to think that the original Star Trek wouldn't have been cancelled if the crew of the Starship Enterprise were ordered "to go boldly where on man has gone before" rather than "to boldly go."
First up, what is the problem with split infinitives? Why must the adverb come AFTER the verb?

Secondly, and this is what really bugs me, Estleman says split infinitives ruin rhythm, and yet, the Star Trek monologue only has rhythm if the infinitive is split. Specifically, Iambic Pentameter.

Behold:

to BOLD
ly GO
where NO
one has GONE
beFORE.

If we avoid splitting the infitive, we get the clunky

to GO
boldLY
where NO...
etc.

Keeping the infinitive unsplit requires us to put the accent on the wrong syllable of "boldly", destroying the rhythm, and yet, according to Estleman, splitting infinitives is the rhythm destroyer?

I think not.

BTW, has anyone else noticed before that the line is in iambic pentameter before?
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Old February 16 2013, 04:16 AM   #2
Mr. Laser Beam
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

Nobody really cares about split infinitives as long as the sentence sounds good.
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Old February 16 2013, 04:53 AM   #3
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

Tiberius wrote: View Post
First up, what is the problem with split infinitives? Why must the adverb come AFTER the verb?
It's a myth. See, a couple centuries back, there were some pretentious grammarians who wanted to pretend that English was a Romance language and followed classy Latin grammar rules. So they made up Latin-based rules for English grammar and promoted them in books, irrespective of the fact that they didn't reflect how English had actually been spoken and written for centuries. And since the infinitive in Latin is a single word, they decided to treat an English infinitive phrase like "to go" as if it were one word, and thus insisted it had to be indivisible.

But this prescriptivist doctrine is absolutely wrong from a linguistic standpoint. The infinitive in English is not "to go," it's just "go." "To" is a helper word that goes with it, in the same way that "has" is a helper word in "has gone." So there's really no such thing as a split infinitive. Not unless you write "to gboldlyo" or something.

There are a lot of prescriptivist rules like this that just create a lot of unnecessary and awkward verbiage, like the one about not putting prepositions at the end of a sentence or not using "they" as a singular gender-neutral pronoun -- all of which were standard English usage for centuries before a few people invented rules saying they weren't proper English.


BTW, has anyone else noticed before that the line is in iambic pentameter before?
But it isn't. There are two consecutive unstressed syllables there, "one has." If it were "to boldly go where none have gone before," that would be iambic pentameter -- exactly five feet of two syllables each, or ten syllables in all. But it's actually three iambs, an anapest, and another iamb, totalling eleven syllables.
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Old February 16 2013, 04:55 AM   #4
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

^
The same reason it's "bad" to end a sentence with a prep.
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Old February 16 2013, 05:16 AM   #5
C.E. Evans
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

Mr. Laser Beam wrote: View Post
Nobody really cares about split infinitives as long as the sentence sounds good.
How many people even know what a split infinitive is?
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Old February 16 2013, 05:17 AM   #6
scotpens
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

As James Thurber said, “When I split an infinitive, it is going to damn well stay split!”
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Old February 16 2013, 05:49 AM   #7
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

As Christopher says, there is no real rule of English that says you can't split the infinitive.. Besides even if there was once a rule, language usage changes over time.
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Old February 16 2013, 06:04 AM   #8
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

C.E. Evans wrote: View Post
Mr. Laser Beam wrote: View Post
Nobody really cares about split infinitives as long as the sentence sounds good.
How many people even know what a split infinitive is?
That too.

Christopher wrote: View Post
But it's actually three iambs, an anapest, and another iamb, totalling eleven syllables.
In other words, an "iamb chop".
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Old February 16 2013, 11:22 AM   #9
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

Boldly going: Star Trek and spaceflight
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Old February 16 2013, 01:45 PM   #10
The Wormhole
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

CorporalClegg wrote: View Post
^
The same reason it's "bad" to end a sentence with a prep.
Jack O'Neill hates that.
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Old February 17 2013, 01:27 AM   #11
Tiberius
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

Christopher wrote: View Post
Tiberius wrote: View Post
First up, what is the problem with split infinitives? Why must the adverb come AFTER the verb?
It's a myth. See, a couple centuries back, there were some pretentious grammarians who wanted to pretend that English was a Romance language and followed classy Latin grammar rules. So they made up Latin-based rules for English grammar and promoted them in books, irrespective of the fact that they didn't reflect how English had actually been spoken and written for centuries. And since the infinitive in Latin is a single word, they decided to treat an English infinitive phrase like "to go" as if it were one word, and thus insisted it had to be indivisible.

But this prescriptivist doctrine is absolutely wrong from a linguistic standpoint. The infinitive in English is not "to go," it's just "go." "To" is a helper word that goes with it, in the same way that "has" is a helper word in "has gone." So there's really no such thing as a split infinitive. Not unless you write "to gboldlyo" or something.

There are a lot of prescriptivist rules like this that just create a lot of unnecessary and awkward verbiage, like the one about not putting prepositions at the end of a sentence or not using "they" as a singular gender-neutral pronoun -- all of which were standard English usage for centuries before a few people invented rules saying they weren't proper English.
Cheers, Christopher, that's pretty interesting. I just wish some people could get the rods out of their arses to learn this!

BTW, has anyone else noticed before that the line is in iambic pentameter before?
But it isn't. There are two consecutive unstressed syllables there, "one has." If it were "to boldly go where none have gone before," that would be iambic pentameter -- exactly five feet of two syllables each, or ten syllables in all. But it's actually three iambs, an anapest, and another iamb, totalling eleven syllables.
I'm a musician, so, speaking musically, I tend to think of it as that the words "no one" are two quavers (eighth notes for you Americans) instead of a crotchet (quarter notes). Two words in the space of one. Sure, it's not QUITE there, but the rhythm isn't greatly affected.
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Old February 17 2013, 02:50 AM   #12
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

Not a myth. Perhaps a silly rule. But the infinitive in English is real, a verbal, that is, something formed from a verb, but which functions not as a verb. "To go" functions as an adjective or noun. "Its five year mission is [x]." You could fill that in with one word, like "peace" or "fun." Or with an infinitive like "to go."

It isn't a myth, it's a verbal (as are gerunds, like "going" in the sentence, "Going is nice.")

As you can see at the start of this post, I break rules in my informal writing, but the infinitive is a real thing. Splitting it might be fine, but it does exist, just not in the one-word, Latinate version. Someone above asked who even knows about them. We are here. And we are among you.
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Old February 17 2013, 02:59 AM   #13
JirinPanthosa
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

I would contend that 'boldly go' is a verb clause, and that there is nothing grammatically wrong with 'to (verb clause)'.
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Old February 17 2013, 03:31 AM   #14
Christopher
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

plynch wrote: View Post
Not a myth. Perhaps a silly rule. But the infinitive in English is real, a verbal, that is, something formed from a verb, but which functions not as a verb.
I did not say the infinitive was not real. I said that the term "split infinitive" is a myth because it's based on an incorrect definition of the infinitive. The infinitive is not "to go," it is just "go." It is often found without "to," in constructions such as "Can we go to the store?" or "She'll go ape when she hears this." It's a single word that often stands by itself. "To" is a marker that accompanies the bare infinitive in many formations; the two words together are called the full infinitive. You can split a full infinitive, but not a bare infinitive, because the infinitive, in its most basic, stripped-down form, is one word, not two. If it's okay for the "to" not to be used at all, then obviously it doesn't make sense to insist that the two words have to be treated as a single indivisible word.

As I said, the "to" is analogous to the "have" in "have gone" -- a marker that's part of a certain grammatical inflection of a verb. There's no law that says you can't put words between "have" and "gone." "I have occasionally gone to that store" is perfectly valid; you don't need to say "I occasionally have gone to that store" or "I have gone occasionally to that store." Both of those are stilted and unnatural formations; it makes sense to put the adverb next to the verb it modifies. The helper word still plays the same role even when it's separated from the verb.

This is genuine English grammar; some of our verb forms are accompanied by a separate marker word that does not have to be immediately adjacent to the verb. The pretense -- the myth -- that the marker "to" must always be adjacent to the infinitive is a fiction based on a misapplication of Latin grammar rules to English. And it doesn't make sense in the context of English grammar and usage.
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Old February 17 2013, 03:32 AM   #15
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Re: That split infinitive we all love...

If y'all think TOS-R vs. unadulterated TOS is a feud, or pro-JJTrek v. anti-, you should hear prescriptive v. descriptive grammarians.

Just for the record, it is not anathema to me to boldly split an infinitive in informal prose. In academia, there are still those who will look askance at one, however. (Fewer and fewer every year, I am sure.) Misplaced modifiers, are another thing, though: often confusing.
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