This afternoon my friend Sana who writes the blog FriendtoYourself, asked,

“can u tell me more about this:

” Keeping the infinitive verb together “

She was wondering about one of the notes I made on a recent post. As I hunkered down to write her back, I was thrilled with a happy disbelief: she wants to know more about the infinitive! Thank goodness for learners who want to know more, more, more….for learners who take the step to search out the answers. No doubt this is why she was so successful in college as well as in her whole professional life. My mind began swirling with all of the ways to describe our friends, the verbs. E-mails and blogs need to be as short and as skimmable as possible, in my opinion, so I tried to reign myself in a bit.

Still, she did ask for it. 😉

Hey Sana,

THE INFINITIVE:

The infinitive verb is constructed like this:

TO + SIMPLE VERB

For example: to sleep, to eat, to be, to dance, to write, to sing, to jump, to play (there are a few exceptions, but we don’t need to get into that now because those exceptions cannot be “split”)

The important thing here is that there is a “to” that introduces it.

“Splitting the inifinitive verb” means putting a word in between the “to” and whatever the simple verb is. I will give examples of that later in this e-mail.

Properties of the infinitive verb:

1) Cannot have -s, -es, -ed, -ing added to the end (such as “to writes” or “to played”)
2) Really important: it looks like two words (to + simple verb) but operates as one word.
3) They don’t really have a tense or a mood.
4) The infinitive is the verb from you can conjugate other forms of the verb.

For example: “to be” is the infinitive verb from which we get “am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being”

Have you by any chance studied Spanish, French, or another romance language? If so, here is a analogy that might be very helpful.

In Spanish, let us take the verb “dormir.” Dormir means “to sleep” in English. Dormir is actually the INFINITIVE VERB in Spanish. Spanish is nice to us, because in Spanish, infinitives are one word. From dormir we get duermo, duermes, duerme, etc. Those are the “conjugations.”

In English, infinitive verbs look like two words but function as one.

In English, if we split the infinitive verb, we might accidentally write: “to happily dance the whole afternoon.” We have split the “to” and the “simple verb” into two parts by putting an adverb (“happily”) in between them.

What I am going to say next may be helpful, but if it is not, just skip it. It is just a silly example that may or may not resonate with you to make this idea of the infinitive imprint on you. If it doesn’t make sense or complicates the issue, pretend it isn’t here.

Let us pretend we have this sentence: “Sana danced happily the whole afternoon.” “Danced” is a past tense verb, not the infinitive. But imagine how strange it would be to write your sentence like this: “Sana da-happily-nced the whole afternoon. Splitting an infinitive verb would be like writing “da-happily-nced.” Grammatically, this is essentially what we are doing when we write “to happily dance.” Again, “to dance” looks like it has a space between two words to insert another word, but English is known for being unnecessarily tricky like that. The space between “to” and “dance” isn’t really there. It would be better if English infinitives were written like todance, tosleep, tojump, etc., like in Spanish or French or Italian.

Of course, there are people who may want to argue the point as a matter of style… BUT.  One way to think about it:  we have to look at how infinitive verbs in other languages operate, for one thing. English may translate infinitive verbs strangely, but they still operate as one entity.

I think of this as “doing the Star Trek.” I love, love, love Star Trek… Do you know their line, “To boldly go where no one has gone before”? Okay, well… Unfortunately that is technically an error. I know, sigh sigh. What is the infinitive?  “To go.” What is the adverb that describes HOW we go? “Boldly.” This really should be written as “to go boldly” or even “boldly to go” (this latter version sounds too antiquated to use, to me, but that’s just my opinion).

One of my biggest grammatical temptations is to split my infinitives. There is just something appealing about putting that adverb right slap in between the “to” and the “verb.” I often have to edit myself for this, so I am hyper-aware of it.

Who wants exercises?? I DOOOOOOOO! How could you rewrite these sentences so the infinitive does not get split?

1. Richard knew that he had to patiently tend to his garden everyday in order to grow a good crop.

2. Sana hopes to quickly finish her biology homework so that she can go out to dinner with her friends.

3. Ringo decided to softly practice his drums so as not to wake up his sleeping family.

4. My friend Lauren stopped by to graciously lend me a book.

POSSIBLE CORRECTIONS: (Infinitives are in bold)

1. Richard knew that he had to tend patiently to his garden everyday in order to grow a good crop.
2. Sana hopes to finish her biology homework quickly so that she can go out to dinner with her friends.
3. Ringo decided to practice his drums softly so as not to wake up his sleeping family.
4. My friend Lauren graciously stopped by to lend me a book. OR My gracious friend Lauren stopped by to lend me a book. (Changing the adverb graciously to an adjective gracious might work even better here….something to think about).

There are multiple possibilities, of course, for changing all of these…. But these answers are probably the most direct and straightforward way to change them, and the changes I would probably make to my own writing.

Hope you are still glad that you decided to ask! (To ask…hmmmm)

🙂
Sarah

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