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To more than justify the split infinitive

As long ago as 1914, an article by the grammarian George O. Curme made the point that more than can modify the verb of an infinitival complement, and since it must be adjacent to the verb, that actually forces a split infinitive: shifting the more than modifier to anywhere else creates clear ambiguity. I found […]

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No-excuses split infinitive in The Economist

I have grumbled on several previous occasions about the Economist's stubborn adherence to a brainless policy that its editors maintain: no adjuncts are to be located between the to and the verb in an infinitival clause, lest readers should get annoyed. That is, the magazine's style guide insists that the "split infinitive" construction should be […]

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At last, a split infinitive in The Economist

The Economist has demonstrated several times that it would rather publish ambiguous, awkward, or even ungrammatical sentences than permit a verb-modifying adjunct to intervene between the marker to and the head verb of the infinitival clause it introduces (see here and here for two of my discussions of the topic). Last week I obtained a […]

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Economist still chicken: botches sentence rather than split infinitive

I have commented elsewhere on the fact that writers in The Economist are required to write unnatural or even ungrammatical sentences rather than risk the wrath of the semi-educated public by "splitting an infinitive" (putting a preverbal modifier immediately before the verb in a to-infinitival complement clause). The magazine published a sentence containing the phrase […]

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When I split an infinitive, God damn it […] it will stay split

In the spirit of Geoff Pullum's lyrical prescriptive poppycock offering, I can offer some Raymond Chandler in verse and letter. And this being Language Log, I will follow it with a light dessert of cheap science. Here's a small sample of Chandler's 1947 poem Lines to a Lady With an Unsplit Infinitive for your edification: There […]

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To boldly split

This new 2nd Cir. brief for @nytimes has a good example of how the fear of splitting infinitives can lead to awkward or ambiguous sentences. "Plausibly" modifies "allege," not "failed." (PS also change "assist it in addressing" to "help it address") https://t.co/kbRUa2LVtf pic.twitter.com/cPtnl9SSql — Ross Guberman (@legalwritingpro) August 22, 2019 Past LLOG coverage… [h/t Daniel […]

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The "split verb rule": a fortiori nonsense

John McIntyre has identified the "split verb rule" as "The Dumbest Rule in the AP Stylebook" (You Don't Say, 4/9/2016): [A]s you look through Garner, Fowler, MWDEU, and language authorities whom you reckon by the dozens on the subject of the split infinitive, you will not find them treating what the AP Stylebook imagines is […]

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The true history of the split verb rule

The "split verb rule" says that an adverb must not be placed between an auxiliary and the following verb. On this account, you should never write "you should never write", but rather "you never should write". In an earlier post, I followed (what I thought was) the lead of James Lindgren ("Fear of Writing", California Law […]

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The split verbs mystery

As a result of an exchange (1, 2 ,3 ,4, 5) with Alan Gunn in the comments yesterday, I was reminded that for many years, legal scholars throughout the U.S. were subjected to a peculiar form of stylistic tyranny, imposed by a curious work known as The Texas Manual on Style. According to James Lindgren […]

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Sausages, nails, and infinitives

A couple of weeks ago, John McIntyre took a critical look at Word Rage ("Walsh should be shot!") — from the prescriptivist point of view ("With friends like this", 4/14/2008). John is not only the Baltimore Sun's assistant managing editor for the copy desk, but also a past president of the American Copy Editors Society, […]

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Draconian dictionaries?

Rachel Paige King ("The Draconian Dictionary Is Back", The Atlantic 8/5/2018) suggests that lexicographers might be (re)turning to prescriptivism: Since the 1960s, the reference book has cataloged how people actually use language, not how they should. That might be changing. […] The standard way of describing these two approaches in lexicography is to call them […]

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The Economist finally comes around

From Lane Greene at The Economist, "The ban on split infinitives is an idea whose time never came," with boldfacing by yours truly: GEORGE BERNARD SHAW was once so angry with a subeditor that he complained to the newspaper. "I ask you, sir," Shaw wrote, "to put this man out." The cause of his fury? […]

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A virus that fixes your grammar

In today's Dilbert strip, Dilbert is confused by why the company mission statement looks so different, and Alice diagnoses what's happened: the Elbonian virus that has been corrupting the company's computer systems has fixed all the grammar and punctuation errors it formerly contained. That'll be the day. Right now, computational linguists with an unlimited budget […]

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