Published: 21st January 2019
Debunking grammar myths: You can split infinitives and it's not grammatically wrong
Traditional grammarians (prescriptivists) say that infinitives should not be split, but to split them is very common in writing of all kinds
Violating a grammar rule is considered a sin by many teachers of English. Some rules of grammar are just myths which have been so firmly established by teachers that many learners strictly follow even after decades of learning the rules. Even if they are told that certain rules are only myths, they are not ready to accept that they are myths. Recently, a teacher of English argued with me saying that infinitives should not be split. When I told her that it was a myth, she was not ready to accept it. She justified her position by stating that she was taught the rule by a teacher whose proficiency in the language was impeccable and the teacher worked in a reputed school.
This week’s column discusses three grammar myths:
1) You shouldn’t split an infinitive.
2) You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition
3) You shouldn’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
What is a split infinitive? When an adverb or adverbial phrase is placed between the word ‘to’ and a verb as in the examples to politely decline, to confidently face, and to casually walk, we call it a split infinitive. In the examples, the infinitives to decline, to face, to walk have been split by the adverbs politely, casually and confidently.
Traditional grammarians (prescriptivists) say that infinitives should not be split, but to split them is very common in writing of all kinds. There has always been a tug-of-war between those who adhere to meaningless traditions.
Here are a few more examples of split infinitives:
I want to confidently state that I can do it.
When he was a student representative he used to boldly challenge his authorities.
You have to really know the secret behind your brother’s success.
Is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition? When I was a student, my English language teachers taught me not to place a preposition at the end of a sentence. It is a myth again because it is quite common to place prepositions at the end of sentences, especially in some passive expressions. It is quite okay to end a sentence with a preposition because it is a perfectly natural part of the structure of modern English.
Here are examples:
This is not the reason you have been called for.
I don’t remember what I stepped on.
I don’t know what it is for.
In phrasal verbs, the second part is a preposition as in these examples: run over, put up with, put on, call on, grow up, look after, count on. Intransitive phrasal verbs are not followed by objects. Examples of intransitive phrasal verbs are: break down (stop working), catch on (become popular), drop by (visit without an appointment), pass out (lose consciousness), grow up (get older), show up (arrive). Many sentences that use intransitive phrasal verbs end with a preposition.
Here are examples:
While I was nearing my office, my car broke down.
He was playing in the school ground. All of a sudden, he passed out.
He said he would come at 10 o’clock, but he didn’t show up.
The examples above are perfectly acceptable sentences. In some sentences, prepositions are unnecessary.
Look at these examples:
Where are you at?
Where are you going to?
In the sentences above, prepositions ‘at’ and ‘to’ are unnecessary.
Is it wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but or so? No. According to the Chicago Manual of Style, this widespread belief has no historical or grammatical foundation and as many as 10 per cent of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions.
Here is an example from literature:
“She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.” (From the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov)
It is difficult to separate, at times, the myth from the truth
— Bob Kane