We would very much like to know whether readers consider the sentence in the title to this post problematic or not. It is of course – as aficionados will immediately recognise – from the Startrek trailer, and the construction in question is known as a split infinitive.
And what about the following message, which pops up every time you leave Microsoft Office Outlook:
What other usage problems do you find problematical? In English or in your own language if you are not a native speaker of English? If you are insecure about a particular usage feature, in English or any other language, where do you turn for guidance? Do you own a usage guide, for instance, and if so which one, or do you merely consult the internet? And if so, which websites?
And how do non-native speakers of English feel about this when they are speaking or writing English? Are you aware of any potential usage problems in English? And, again, where would you turn for guidance?
(For readers of Kennislink, feel free to reply in Dutch if you wish.)
Are you sure you want to permanently condemn the split infinitive?
Why is the split infinitive talked about so much? Why do pedants go to silly extremes to avoid it? Why don’t Fowler and Partridge condemn it out of hand? The reason is that the split infinitive is not worth the time we waste on it, should be forbidden only when it is ugly, and has been used for centuries by people who speak.
The split infinitive is sometimes more dramatic and poetic than other constructions. The famous “To boldly go where no man has gone before” is poetic. Would you really prefer “To go boldly where no man has gone before”? It sounds as flabby and unappetising as a three-day-old herring.
Let’s look at Microsoft’s version, “Are you sure you want to permanently delete all the folders?” If they hadn’t split their infinitive, the sentence would have been, “Are you sure you want to delete all the folders permanently?” That may been faultless, but it misses the point: the drama of the question is bound up in the terminal threat of permanent deletion.
By slipping an adverb into the split, we increase the verb’s power. Surely “To boldly go” and “To permanently delete” are more dramatic and pointed than they would have been if Mr and Ms Pedant had written them?
You might even say that splitting an infinitive creates a new, more intense verb (to boldly go, to permanently delete), rather like intensifying a plain pumpkin soup by adding a dash of curry powder.
I agree with Paul Bennett’s analysis that slipping in the adverb works as an intensifier for the verb. In Dutch, you can change a verb’s suffix to make a new, related verb (e.g. ‘knippen’ -> ‘knipperen’ to indicate repetion). In many languages, you can insert an infix in a single word to slightly change its meaning. So allowing an adverb to be slipped in, does not imply that you consider the infinitive as two separable words.
I only learned about the split infinitive debate last month and wrote this post about it http://www.sylviawenmackers.be/blog/2011/10/moedig-te-gaan-naar-balliol-college/ (in Dutch).
Look, Captain Picard lives in the 24th century. Obviously, that’s a long time from now, a time when the prosecution of split-infinitives are a thing of the past. I actually grew up hearing both Shatner and Stewart say thin on tv, and many more followed. I say it and use it all the time. If it were up to me, there wouldn’t be a split-infinitive discussion…I believe in descriptive grammar, not that crazy idea called prescriptive grammar, which, I’m sorry to say, only exists because people who know the language very well – which is admirable, I admit – are afraid they’ll have to change what they were taught long back in their college days and simply refuse to keep up with a little thing called LANGUAGE CHANGE. Happens all the time and it’s not evil. In fact, it’s natural.
For example, which Dutchmen would still say ‘Het huis daar ik woon’? The answer is no one. Why? Because it’s changed.