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How to Fix a Split Infinitive

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Split infinitives are common grammatical mistakes that can make a sentence confusing to a reader. This lesson will explain what an infinitive is, why you shouldn't split it, and how to revise when you do.

What Happened to My Infinitive?

A split infinitive is a common grammatical mistake that can be hard for writers to spot. Many people think they are not a big deal, but they can often have a major impact on your writing and make it hard for a reader to understand what you have to say. Take, for example, this sentence:

  • I like to on a hot day eat a lot of ice cream.

Did you have to read it twice to be clear what it was saying? I know I did. But let's make just a little adjustment:

  • On a hot day, I like to eat a lot of ice cream.

All I did was move a few words around (and add a comma), but this sentence is way easier to read on the first attempt. So what did I do? I fixed the split infinitive.

What Is an Infinitive?

Before we can tackle split infinitives, we need to deal with a more basic question: what in the world is an infinitive? An infinitive, simply put, is a combination of the word 'to' and a verb that is used as a noun, adverb, or adjective. So, in our example from above, 'to eat' is the infinitive. In this instance, it is acting as an adverb because it is modifying the main verb, 'like,' but infinitives can also be used as nouns:

  • He hated to fly.

And they can be used as adjectives:

  • She lacked the power to resist.

In an infinitive you are always going to have two parts: the 'to' and the verb. It is best to keep them together because when you split them up, confusion can reign.

Fixing Split Infinitives

Now that we know what split infinitives are, it is best to get in the habit of avoiding them in your writing. But we all split infinitives in writing, especially in early drafts. So, it is best to learn how to fix them when they do inevitably pop up. The first step is identifying the two parts of the infinitive. Try to do so in this sentence:

  • Writers should learn to not split infinitives.

The infinitive in this sentence is 'to split' and, as you can see, it has itself been split by the word 'not.' But now that we have identified the infinitive, we are halfway done. Now all we need to do is reword the sentence so as to keep 'to split' together:

  • Writers should learn not to split infinitives.

Our infinitive has been surgically repaired!

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