What is a Split Infinitive? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

In this lesson, we will learn about a common writing error called a split infinitive. This error is easy to recognize and correct, and we will focus on ways to eliminate this error from our writing.

What Is an Infinitive?

An infinitive is the plain form of a verb. This is the verb form typically shown in dictionaries. In the infinitive form, the verb is usually preceded by the word 'to'. When it is joined to the verb stem, the word 'to' is sometimes called the infinitive marker. Infinitives are common in everyday conversation and writing. Infinitives can function as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

Examples of Infinitives

There are many infinitives in the English language. Here are a few examples.

  • to run
  • to be
  • to have
  • to learn
  • to swim

What Is a Split Infinitive?

Split Infinitive

A split infinitive is a writing error that occurs when the two parts of the infinitive are separated by another word. In other words, the word 'to' and the verb in an infinitive should be thought of as a single unit.

Examples of Split Infinitives

Can you spot the split infinitive in the following sentence?

  • Mother asked you to quietly wait for her in the den.

The infinitive in this sentence is 'to wait', and by inserting the word 'quietly' between the 'to' and the verb 'wait', we have created a split infinitive.

Here is another example.

  • Aunt Mary was not sure she wanted to go on the trip, but Aunt Lucy seemed to really want to go.

Can you find the word that splits the infinitive in this sentence?

Revising to Eliminate Split Infinitives

Split infinitives are easy to eliminate. To correct a split infinitive, the word that separates the two parts of the infinitive should be moved.

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