As constantly happens in the history of language, the old order of things is changing. … The practice of inserting an adverb between the infinitive sign and the infinitive has steadily increased during the last hundred years, and goes on increasing still.
– Thomas Lounsbury, 1908
A tiny band of Japanese soldiers, stationed on an island in the Philippines, kept fighting for many years after World War II had ended because they refused to believe that their side could possibly have lost.
The war against the split infinitive is still being fought, even though the cause was lost long ago.
One of those who battles on, in denial of this ancient defeat, is Neville Gwynne. Last Monday he told Radio 4’s World at One:
The wrongness of the split infinitive is about as old as English itself. It dates back to about 1500 or something, and is based not on Latin but the fact that English is a German language, and you don’t split the infinitive in German beginning with “zu”…
The split infinitive was not even used in 1485, Shakespeare never used it. It was never used until the 19th century, when Fanny Burney wrote her whole lot of books where she always split her infinitives. Nobody sort of took her line on it, and it has been absolutely regarded as unacceptable ever since. And not because it’s an arbitrary rule … you split an infinitive, you’ve made a mistake. …
Grammar is a science which has been identified century after century by grammarian after grammarian, and they’re all agreed on what the science is and there’s always a good reason for any particular rule, and that is why that rule is stuck with.
Almost all of this is wrong. Continue reading