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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What is an infinitive?

An infinitive is a verb in its most basic form. It usually has the word to before it, so it looks like this:

infinitive pic

Let’s look at some examples:

  • to dance
  • to play
  • to eat

Infinitives do not act as verbs, however. Instead, infinitives act as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

Examples of infinitives as nouns
She loves to sing.
Here, to sing is acting as the direct object of the verb loves, and direct objects are often nouns.

To fly was his passion.
Here, to fly is acting like the subject of the sentence, and subjects are nouns.

Examples of infinitives as adjectives
The way to win involves patience.
Here, to win modifies the noun way, which makes it an adjective.

Her favorite color to paint the walls is mint.
Here, to paint modifies the noun color, which makes it an adjective.

Examples of infinitives as adverbs
She stopped to chat.
Here, to chat modifies the verb stopped, which makes it an adverb.

He decided to eat the scorpion.
Here to eat modifies the verb decided, which makes it an adverb.

Because they can act as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, infinitives are an important part of our language. Now you’ll be able to recognize them in everyday speech and in writing.

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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Rack vs. Wrack

a very old wrecked ship sitting on sand

The shipwreck wracked the vessel.

What’s the difference between rack and wrack? Let’s take a look at their definitions, how to use them in popular phrases, and a mnemonic device to help you remember which is which.

Rack as a verb means “to torture or cause great suffering.”
Example: Her anxiety racked her mind.

Have you ever heard of the medieval torture device called the rack? It was a wooden frame with a crank attached to it. When a person was placed on the rack, the torturer would crank the device, stretching the person’s limbs until they dislocated them. Sounds like fun times.

Anyway, that’s where we get this usage of rack. And when we use it, we signify torturing, especially stretching.

Wrack as a verb means “to wreck or ruin something.”
Example: They sat back as they watched pollution wrack their planet.

Wrack comes from a word meaning “to be shipwrecked.” Both of these words have pretty gloomy origins, don’t they?

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Now let’s go over a couple common phrases using one of these words.

Rack your brain
When you rack your brain, you are thinking really hard, stretching your brain’s capabilities. This idea of stretching is why we use rack instead of wrack.

Example: I really racked my brain studying for my chemistry final.

Nerve-racking
Something that is nerve-racking tortures your nerves. This idea of torturing is why we use rack instead of wrack.

Example: I found studying for my chemistry final nerve-racking.

Similar meanings
It’s true that rack and wrack have very similar uses. This is why some dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster, are advocating for using the words interchangeably and treating them as spelling variants.

Mnemonic device
To remember the difference between rack and wrack think: wrack = wreck. They are only one letter off.

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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Join My Private Facebook Writing Group

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Sign up for my private Facebook writing group at www.facebook.com/groups/dotanddashllc.

I’m opening up membership to my private writing group on Facebook! Until today, I kept the Dot and Dash Writing Community only for book-editing and author-coaching clients and a select other few writers. But then I thought—Why keep this goodness a secret?

So come and join me!

When you’re a member of the Dot and Dash Writing Community, you’ll get links to articles about writing, editing, and publishing, as well as top writing resources across the web. You’ll also get to access to my weekly Ask the Editor videos, where I answer questions from members about anything and everything in the writing world. Plus you’ll get to be a part of a supportive and friendly community of authors and aspiring writers like you.

This group is a judgment-free zone where you can share your struggles and your wins and your thoughts about your writing life, make friends, find accountability partners, and connect with industry professionals.

So why are you waiting? Join the Dot and Dash Writing Community now! I can’t wait to see you there.

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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Portmanteau: Definition + Examples

Scrabble tiles with the word "portmanteaus" overtop them

Portmanteaus are words that blend two or more words together.

A portmanteau is when two or more words blend together to make a new word. Often, this new word fills a void in the lexicon. For example, people needed a name for the pollution that clings to city skies. So they came up with smog, which is a mashup of smoke and fog.

Spork is another neat one. Is there really a better term to describe that combo spoon and fork found in school cafeterias across the nation?

In both smog and spork, the two words used to form the portmanteau help describe the new word, which is a quality of portmanteaus.

Also, most of us are familiar with these terms and may recognize that they are portmanteaus, perhaps because they are newer to our vocabulary. However, there are many older words that we may not recognize are indeed portmanteaus. A few of my favorites are bash (bang + smash), flounder (flounce + blunder), and meld (melt + weld).

 

List of portmanteaus
Here’s a list of portmanteaus. Some are pretty funny (glob); some are more well known (motel); and some are so rooted in our language that many may not be aware they even are portmanteaus (pixel). Enjoy!

portmanteau combination of
advertorial advertisement + editorial
alphanumeric alphabetic + numeric
bash bang + smash
bionic biology + electronic
biopic biographical + picture
blog web + log
bodacious bold + audacious
breathalyzer breath + analyzer
carjack car + hijack
Chunnel channel + tunnel
cyborg cybernetic + organism
dumbfound dumb + confound
emoticon emotion + icon
flounder flounce + blunder
genome gene + chromosome
glitz glamour + ritz
glob gob + blob
guesstimate guess + estimate
hazmat hazard + material
intercom internal + communication
internet international + network
malware malicious + software
meld melt + weld
modem modulator + demodulator
motel motor + hotel
motorcade motor + cavalcade
newscast news + broadcast
paratrooper parachute + trooper
pixel picture + element
prissy prim + sissy
pulsar pulsating + star
quasar quasistellar + radio
simulcasting simultaneous + broadcasting
sitcom situation + comedy
skort skirt + short
smog smoke + fog
spork spoon + fork
telethon telephone + marathon
transponder transmitter + responder
wifi wireless + fidelity

Make your own portmanteaus
In my research, I discovered a super cool website, called Portmanteaur, where you can create your own portmanteaus. Simply enter a couple words into the text box and—voila—a list of portmanteaus of your words appear. (It’s magic.)

Let me know what portmanteaus you make in the comments.

This post was written by Erin Servais of Dot and Dash, an author-services company focusing on women authors.

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