Try to Avoid Splitting Infinitives

Inserting an adverb between to and the verb, called splitting the infinitive, often results in awkward or confusing sentences. It frequently weakens your writing, although there are certain circumstances, discussed below, where it's an appropriate alternative.

For example, consider the sentence He must strive to even meet the extended deadline. The sentence is not only awkward in construction, it's unclear as well. Is he having trouble meeting the deadline or is the deadline unrealistic? Isn't it stronger and clearer to write He must strive to meet even the extended deadline?

Instead of She always tries to cautiously examine antiques, it's better to write She always tries to examine antiques cautiously.

Follow these steps to determine whether to split an infinitive:

1. Try putting the adverb after the infinitive. This approach is almost always the most effective strategy. In the two examples above, notice that putting the adverb after the infinitive improves the sentences.

2. If putting the adverb after the infinitive doesn't work, try putting it just before the infinitive.

Consider this sentence, for example: I want you to personally review the project due to be completed in March. To avoid splitting the infinitive, try moving the adverb personally after the infinitive. Here are two alternatives: I want you to review the project due to be completed in March personally. Or, I want you to review personally the project due to be completed in March. Both sentences are grammatical but awkward and unclear. Putting the adverb personally after the infinitive doesn't help.

Now try putting the adverb before the infinitive. In this example, the sentence would read: I want you personally to review the project due to be completed in March.

Positioning the adverb as indicated above, just before the infinitive, ensures that the meaning is clear and the sentence is constructed grammatically.

3. If putting the adverb before the infinitive still doesn't work, you may split the infinitive.

Consider this example: You ought to evaluate the university's report to manage our technology needs methodically. Or, You ought to evaluate methodically the university's report to manage our technology needs. Note that both examples read awkwardly.

Positioning the adverb in front of the infinitive results in another awkward sentence: You ought methodically to evaluate the university's report to manage our technology needs.

But note that splitting the infinitive works well: You ought to methodically evaluate the university's report to manage our technology needs.

Notice that the sentence reads naturally and your meaning is clear.

The three questions we've addressed thus far—starting sentences informally, ending sentences with prepositions, and splitting infinitives—are examples of business writing's drift toward informality and a conversational style. Using the professionally spoken word as your standard, you will create conversational text that's both accessible and appropriate.

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