15 Oct 2008
‘To boldly go’ says Captain Kirk. But I wonder if he ever worried about splitting the infinitive. Probably not. Not with all those aliens around to keep him occupied.
The infinitive of a verb is made by adding to. So, to go, to pay, to eat. And splitting the infinitive is when a word (normally an adverb) is plonked between the to and the verb; ‘To boldly go’ being one of the most famous.
Purists tut and huff at this. They think the infinitive should never be split and a sentence should always be rewritten. And this works to a point.
Have a look at the following examples. In the first one the infinitive is split.
He told me I had to quickly finish my lunch
And in the second, the sentence has been moved around but it’s retained its meaning.
He told me I had to finish my lunch quickly
So let’s apply this to Captain Kirk. Would ‘to go boldly’ or ‘boldly to go’ have the same resonance? No it wouldn’t. So the rule of thumb is: move the sentence around to avoid the split infinitive if you can. But if it sounds really rubbish – ignore the rule of thumb.
And by the way Shakespeare split infinitives all the time. And if it’s good enough for ol’ Will, it’s good enough for the rest of us. And James T Kirk.