Column: To infinitives and beyond


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

When I started working at a new company, I was disappointed to learn that an “enterprise” account had absolutely nothing to do with spaceships. Instead, enterprise accounts are the big fish your team reels in so that your proverbial corporate boat stays afloat.

I hate to critique with Captain Kirk, but when he utters, “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” he’s technically breaking a grammar rule. Or is he? I know William Shatner (who famously played Captain James T. Kirk) is Canadian; does that hamper his grasp on correct English grammar?

“To boldly go” is an example of a split infinitive. Up until now, the only thing I was worried about splitting was my pants. So, what’s an infinitive, anyway?

An infinitive is almost always a two-word verb phrase with the word “to” in front of the verb. Examples of infinitives include to sneeze, to cry, to dance and to fail.

A split infinitive occurs when you put an adverb between “to” and the verb. It’s like the adverb is rudely cutting in on you and your date at the prom, which makes you want to take the adverb out to the parking lot and punch it in the throat. Examples of split infinitives include to loudly sneeze, to softly cry, to confidently dance and to utterly fail.

So, what’s the big deal? Are split infinitives a definitive no-no in English? Not necessarily.

The anti-split infinitive movement grew from a handful of prominent English grammarians in the 18th and 19th centuries who had nothing better to do than to try to bend popular opinions on English grammar rules to those of Latin. By now, these grammarians are all dead, so they don’t get a say anymore.

With that said, it’s probably a good idea to avoid split infinitives in your formal writing; many still view split infinitives as at least quasi-incorrect grammar usage. But, could you imagine the introduction of a classic show like “Star Trek” where Kirk says “…to go boldly where no man has gone before”? Pop (and nerd) culture just wouldn’t be the same. I’ll split with the grammar snobs and cling on to the Trekkies on this one.