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Splitting Verbs #form #adv


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A Real Life Example: “The Inaugural Stumble”

On January 20, 2008, Chief Justice Roberts gave Barack Obama the presidential oath. Unexpectedly, the Chief Justice changed the word order of the traditional oath. Why? As a strict grammarian, he wanted to avoid splitting the verb phrase with an adverb.

There was a moment of silence. Barack Obama, who had memorized the oath, tried to resolve the difference mid-sentence. As a result, he said the word faithfully twice. Because there was concern that the oath had not been administered correctly, it was readministered to Barack Obama the next day to make sure it was done properly.

It appears that Chief Justice Roberts was using a controversial rule: NEVER split a verb (or an infinitive ).

Original: I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.

Chief Justice Roberts: I do solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president of the United States faithfully . (changed word order)

Barak Obama: I do solemnly swear that I will execute faithfully the office of president of the United States faithfully…

administer (V) – manage, have executive charge of (government affairs, medicine)

stumble (N) – misstep; mistake

Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Any speaker who has not been brainwashed by the split-verb myth can sense that these corrections go against the rhythm and logic of English phrasing. The myth originated centuries ago in a thick-witted analogy to Latin, in which it is impossible to split an infinitive because it consists of a single word, like dicere, to say. But in English, infinitives like to go and future-tense forms like will go are two words, not one, and there is not the slightest reason to interdict adverbs from the position between them. — Steven Pinker Oaf of Office

No rational basis for this prescriptivist rule.
Prescriptive condemnation of the ‘split infinitive’ did not rise until the second half of the nineteenth century. The construction can be found in the literature of the preceding several hundred years, but it became more popular in English writing as the nineteenth century went on, and the adoption of the rule in prescriptive grammar reflected disapproval of this change. No reason was ever given as to why the construction was supposedly objectionable, however. (737)

First, all the evidence points towards the reality of the feeling that it is wrong to split infinitives….On the other hand it is clear that rigid adherence to a policy of non-splitting can sometimes lead to unnaturalness or ambiguity…. Preference. No absolute taboo should be placed on the use of simple adverbs between the particle to and the verbal part of the infinitive. ‘Avoid splitting infinitives whenever possible, but do not suffer undue remorse if a split infinitive is unavoidable for the natural and unambiguous completion of a sentence already begun.’
(Burchfield 737-8)

It should be noted that the term ‘split infinitive’ is a misnomer: nothing is being split. In Latin there is an infinitive form of the verb, which is traditionally translated into English by means of to + the plain form. Latin amare. for example, is translated to love. But where amare is a single word, to love is not: it is a sequence of two words. Thus the fact that no adjunct can be positioned within amare provides no basis for expecting it should be contrary to grammatical principles to position one between to and love. (581)

Split Infinitives. A. Generally. Although few amrmchair grammarians seem to know it, some split infinitives are regarded as perfectly proper…[Garner cites several grammarians.] B. Splits to Be Avoided. If a split is easily fixed by putting the adverb at the end of the phrase and the meaning remains the same, then avoiding the split is the best course:
Split: It is not necessary to here enlarge upon those points.
Unsplit: It is not necessary to enlarge upon those points here .
Such capriciously split infinites only jar the reader. (767)

Stage 5: Fully accepted on Garner’s Language Change Index. (xxxv)

Split infinitive structures are quite common in English, especially in an informal style. Some people consider them incorrect or careless, and avoid them if possible by putting the adverb in another position. (280.7)

  • Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Edited by R. W. Burchfield and H. W. Fowler, revised 3rd ed. Oxford UP, 2004.
  • Garner’s Modern American Usage. by Bryan A. Garner, 3rd ed. Oxford UP, 2009.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D. and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Pinker, Steven, Oaf of Office. The New York Times. 21 Jan. 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/opinion/22pinker.html?th emc=th .
  • Split infinitive. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 15 Dec. 2013.
  • ‘To boldly go’ gets green light. BBC Online Network. 13 Aug 1999, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk/150458.stm .

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