Is It Okay to Split an Infinitive?

a background of tropical leaves with the words on top: split infinitives

If you think back to your eleventh-grade English class, or if you’ve ever gone toe-to-toe with a pedantic member of the grammar police, you’ve probably heard that it’s not okay to split an infinitive.

Remember that an infinitive is a verb in its most basic form, with the word to and then the verb, such as

  • to love
  • to sleep
  • to play

A split infinitive is when an adverb is inserted between to and the verb. The most famous example comes from the opening to the original Star Trek TV series:

“to boldly go where no man has gone before”

Notice that boldly goes between to and go, thus splitting it. Here are some more examples of split infinitives:

  • to quickly write
  • to happily read
  • to frankly say

 

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Why do people think splitting infinitives is bad?
Basically, some people think it’s inelegant. This idea was made popular by Henry Alford, the dean of Canterbury, who, in 1864, said people shouldn’t do it because, ahem, they already weren’t doing it very often. He wrote in his book, The Queen’s English: “. . . this practice is entirely unknown to English speakers and writers.”

But that’s not true. Lord Byron used split infinitives before the dean even wrote his book, as did Thomas Cromwell, Daniel Defoe, Benjamin Franklin, and many others. But somehow having Alford proclaim this made split infinitives a taboo.

However, split infinitives are natural in our everyday speech. You’ve probably already spoken multiple split infinitives today without even realizing it. And, over the years, authorities on the English language have relaxed their view.

In 2019, the Associated Press Stylebook came out and said using the split infinitive can actually make sentences easier to read and can better convey meaning, reversing its previous suggestion on the matter. So, it’s okay to split infinitives if it makes your message clearer or if it sounds more natural.

Now I want you to go boldly forth and split away!

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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How to Write Stuttering

stutter photo

Photo by Mark Daynes on Unsplash

I recently edited a book in which there was a character who stuttered when he became anxious. There are guidelines about how to write stuttering and the best way to handle these characters and situations.

Here’s how you do it: write the first sound, and then repeat it one or more times, separating the sounds with a hyphen.

Example: He c-c-collected silly t-ties.

The first sound can be the first letter, as with the example above, or it can be two letters.

Example: I don’t think Holden Caulfield is a ph-phony.

Example: She dr-dr-dreaded the dance party.

 

 

Less often, stuttering happens in the middle of a word (typically with a consonant), but it follows the same rules.

Example: The cat ate the can-n-nary.

Is It a Stutter or a Pause?
If they pause and repeat a whole word, that’s not stuttering; that’s just a regular pause. In those cases, use ellipses to show the break.

Example: She said, “Wow, those khakis look so . . . so amazing on you.”

Don’t Overuse
Be sure to use stuttering sparingly so the text doesn’t get tiring (and annoying) to read. This also means limiting the number of characters who stutter. Really, any more than one can walk on the edge of overuse.

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Ahoy, Matey! Here’s How to Format Ship Names

gp boat

I hope you’re visiting Grammar Party today because you just bought a yacht (or a speed boat or a canoe or a spaceship) and you want to invite me on a trip. (I happen to be a pretty good time—and I rarely get seasick. Just an FYI.)

But . . . if you’re visiting to learn how to properly format ship and boat names, you can learn that here too.

First things first. Let’s learn the difference between a “boat” and a “ship.”

  • A boat is a watercraft of any size. However, it usually means a smaller craft. So, you probably wouldn’t call a cruise ship a boat.
  • A ship is a large watercraft. Think of a cruise ship or a big navy vessel.

How to format ship names:
According to The Chicago Manual of Style section 8.115, “Names of specific ships and other vessels are both capitalized and italicized.” Here are some examples:

  • Lady Princess’s Floating Palace
  • Stan’s Ocean Behemoth
  • Ship Happens
  • Divorce Paper Dinghy

How to format military ships:
If you are writing about a specific military ship that includes either HMS (British) or SS (United States) before the ship name, do not set these abbreviations in italics. However, put the rest of the name in italics. Here are examples:

  • HMS Beagle
  • HMS Bounty
  • USS Enterprise

I hope this helps. And . . . let me know about that boat or ship ride.

 

 

When to Capitalize Titles

Lesson: when to capitalize civil, military, religious, and professional titles

Capitalizing a title depends on whether it comes before or after a person’s name or stands alone.

If the title comes before a name, capitalize it. Titles that are directly in front of names are, in effect, being used as part of the names and thus require the same capitalization.

Examples:

The church is home to Reverend James Boot.
The person in charge is Director Mary Fritz.

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If the title comes after a name, lowercase it. Titles after names are not being used as part of the names and so do not require capitalization.

Examples:

The article was about James Boot, reverend for the local church.
Mary Fritz, director of marketing, makes a lot of money.

If the title stands alone, lowercase it. Likewise, because titles are not attached to names, they do not need to be capitalized.

Examples:

The church is looking for a new reverend.
The director of marketing is Mary Fritz.

Remember: only capitalize a title if it comes directly before a name.

Quiz
Choose whether the title in italics should be capitalized. The answers are below.

1. The sergeant earned a medal.
2. Janet Deetz is the chief executive officer.
3. Fred Turner, provost of the university, will give a speech.
4. Friday, bishop Frank Tots will visit.

Answers:
1. lowercase 3. lowercase 4. lowercase 5. capitalize

 

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

Follow Dot and Dash on social media.
Twitter: @GrammarParty
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To hyphenate or not to hyphenate

 

Today we’re discussing words with prefixes and whether we should hyphenate them. In general, English is moving away from hyphenation (it’s coworker, not co-worker, for instance), but there are some situations in which using the hyphen is the better course of action.

For this, I turned to the dog-eared, super-highlighted section 7.85 of my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, which is my go-to resource for style questions. (Word style, not fashion style—I can handle the latter part on my own. Hellooo, silver combat boots!)

Here’s what the book says about prefixes.
A hyphen should appear:
1)   Before a capitalized word or a numeral, such as sub-Saharan, pre-1950
2)   To separate two Is, two As, or two other same vowels, such as anti-intellectual, extra-alkaline
3)   To separate other combinations of letters or syllables that might cause misreading, such as pro-life

(There are a few more rules; however, these are the ones you’ll most often experience, so let’s keep our focus here. And, as always, there are exceptions to the rules above, but we’re discussing what you should generally do.)

So, according to rule 1, it would be prewar, but pre-WWII (because of the capitalization).

According to rule 2, it would be extrasmart, but extra-academic (because of having the two side-by-side letter As).

Rule 3 is where it gets tricky to me. It basically says, if you think not hyphenating a word may cause people to misread it, then use a hyphen. Well, that’s open to interpretation of what one thinks may lead to a misread. The rule, according to The Chicago Manual of Style is: when in doubt, check Merriam-Webster. This means, if a word is not hyphenated in that dictionary, don’t hyphenate it.

In the last book I edited, I had a conundrum with words starting with rein (so the prefix re- and a word that started with the letters I and N.) For example, this morning I looked up the word reinvest, as in “to invest again.” To me, I see this word as two words smushed together: rein and vest. It looks (to me) like a noun that means “a vest you wear with your reins.” Like: “I wore my reinvest so I didn’t fall off my horse.” But, of course, that’s not its meaning. Yet, the lords at Merriam-Webster think people won’t have a problem misreading that word, so it shouldn’t get a hyphen.

I might lose my grammar police badge for this, but in the last book I edited, I used my own judgment (in some cases) regarding hyphenation. I encourage you to do this, too. If you think readers will be confused if you don’t use a hyphen, then use a hyphen. (But don’t tell anyone I told you that.)

Quiz
Decide if each word should be hyphenated. Keep in mind rules 1 and 2 mentioned above. (We’re not even going to get into rule 3 here because, as I mentioned, it’s too open to interpretation.)

1)   hyper active
2)   neo natal
3)   post 1984
4)   hyper sonic
5)   inner Chicago
6)   anti inflammatory
7)   non violent
8)   over zealous
9)   mega ambient
10)  co author

Answers: 1) hyperactive 2) neonatal 3) post-1984 4) hypersonic 5) inner-Chicago 6) anti-inflammatory 7) nonviolent 8) overzealous 9) mega-ambient 10) coauthor