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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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I very much enjoy reading my friend Sana’s blog. Working as her editor, I think especially carefully about her use of language, looking for not just the little corrections here and there but moreso looking for the beautiful tools that come naturally to her. As with my students, my goal is to point out everything well that she does and to teach her the pattern of her natural style, her own voice. As a teacher I believe it is much more important for a student to be able to explain what they know and what they are doing right—than it is for a student to see red marks and corrections all over the paper.

Only by knowing what we are doing right—and why—can we hope to build our skills. Sure, people who write do need to internalize grammar rules, and they would do equally well to learn the conventions, too— if only to know when to break them.

(By the way, one distinction: grammar rules are hard and fast, based on logic; conventions are aspects of style to which people have agreed but that may be broken with poetic license. For example: it will always be illogical to pair a singular noun with a plural pronoun—i.e. “Everyone needs their daily chocolate.” “Everyone” is singular, while “their” is plural. Never may one person suddenly BA-ZING! become two or more in a sentence—this will always be wrong, by logic. Conventions, on the other hand, might include the old English teacher mottoes “Never begin a sentence with and!” or “Don’t use colloquialisms!” or “No sentence fragments!” Well, we know of writers who break conventions all the time and do it with panache. Grammar vs. conventions).

So Sana hears quite a bit from me with respect to all that she does right. By now she knows that her strengths include her use of imagery and metaphor, as well as her precise use of diction to characterize the people she describes. She has a friendly, authoritative tone which she intersperses with wry humor. She has a natural ear for parallel structure (both within a single sentence and within paragraphs as a whole). Her organization of her writing never falters. She is structured and logical as well as empathetic and descriptive—everything you could want as a reader when looking to connect to a writer.

The other day she suggested that some of my positive feedback sometimes comes as a surprise to her. If I fulfill my job as a teacher, then there should come a joyful day when she is no longer surprised. Now, yes, some writers by their very nature will always be a bit surprised—it is hard to break a student totally of authentic humility, and who would want to? It is pleasing when a writer is not over-confident and still has a thrill at discovering her own ability to connect with people, as if by magic. But by “no longer surprised” what I really mean is this: there will come a day when she will be able to talk with me about the intention of her crafting and she will know that what she does is effective…and, most importantly (drum roll please) WHY.

Last night, Sana wrote a blog discussing some of the signs of domestic abuse. She wrote in the first paragraph:

Alexandria (Alex) was crying a lot.  She was trying to divorce her husband but he wouldn’t leave.  He wouldn’t speak.  He only yelled.  He yelled at her, alone, in front of their kids, in the morning, when he came home from work, he yelled.  And he never spoke to her any more.  It’s been weeks since they spoke. When I asked her if she thought she was abused, she said, “No.  He’s never hit me.”

Check out the fifth sentence:

He yelled at her, alone, in front of their kids, in the morning, when he came home from work, he yelled.

This sentence is all Sana, and it is all good. Her syntax is brilliant—look how she bookends the sentence with “he yelled” to represent the constant presence of the husband’s loud berating. The structure of this sentence parallels Alexandria’s life: surrounded by yelling—whether alone, with her kids, in the morning, or when her husband comes home. In fact, it gets even better. If we were adhering to strict conventions, one imagines a period going in after “work.” The verb “yelled” has already been used in the first clause; the sentence does not require a second verb; it is not a compound sentence. The fact that Sana uses another verb (the power, the action of any sentence) at the end of the sentence—making it almost stream-of-consciousness or a run-on—achieves something amazing. She quite literally weighs the sentence down with the second verb, giving the sentence additional weight when we definitely expect it to have no more. By heavy-handedly giving us this second verb, Sana represents through syntax (sentence structure) the weight of the yelling on Alexandria, the crushing feeling, the heavy boxed-in-ness.

Yes, I love everything about this sentence. Did Sana craft it with this intention? Well, that is for her as the writer to know. Did Fitzgerald know the every possible interpretation of all his sentences when he wrote them? Did Hawthorne? Dickinson? The point is that she now knows for sure now how well that sentence works. It is one to write down and keep in a notebook where one writes down and keeps the best of the best for later use or as models or as inspirations for another day.

It is often helpful to have a second set of eyes on one’s writing…not just for the picky grammar stuff, but to tell you what you are doing well and why.

Gather joy in your strengths, and let others help you to know what those are.

I love my job. Thinking about words, writing, teaching, helping others to find their voice and make it shine—these are some of my true passions in life. I am passionate, too, about having a flexible schedule with my children and being their primary teacher—and being available to take them to music class, for example, or to visit family members during the week. I have had to relinquish my classroom in order to do this, yet I am thankful that everywhere can be a classroom.

I am thankful, too, that my friend Sana Johnson-Quijada thought of me when she was searching for an editor for her writing at friendtoyourself.com . I am thankful that my dad brought me to Toastmasters and that I met her, that Toastmasters has a weekly “grammarian” role that suits my skills, and that she trusts me to give her feedback that is sincere, experienced, and thoughtful. I love that, through communicating with her about her writing, I am able to teach again. I feel a renewed spark in myself, remembering what I am good at and what my mind feels satisfied doing. So often in motherhood I feel like I am making up solutions as I go along and reckoning constantly with my mistakes—but when I sit down to work on editing and writing, I feel assured. It turns out that is an important feeling to remember to have…and it ripples throughout my life.

I am thankful, too, that I am able to bring a little financial contribution into our home, earned by my effort. I give my every effort with our children, of course, but to commit to an external job is a different kind of discipline. It feels good to give that to my family, too.

I love that I can edit in the evenings, after my children are asleep, or in the mornings with a cup of tea and my jammies on. Even during the day I can set my own timing. I would, in fact, greatly enjoy additional editing projects.

Sana wrote to me last night with a question about her recent post on autism:

here’s a question for my editor.
all of these
i knew u would put that there but i left it out because i thought it was superfluous.  is it a rule i’ve forgotten, Princeton?
I replied:

Hey Sana,

I love that the nerdy grammar bug has infected you and that you are asking that! You ain’t seen nuthin’ until you’ve seen English majors debate the finer points of MLA citation and rules, but you are getting closer to that nirvana. 😉

In most cases, the “of” is superfluous… I learned that when the “all” is followed by a pronoun (these, this, them) that we put the “of” in. When it is followed by a noun (“all the books,” “all the fruit”), then we can leave the “of” out.

Truth be told, the trend of language now is that we see the “of” less and less—in either construction. Formal writing will use it, but it isn’t necessary for the writer to be understood. Case in point: I knew very well what you were saying without the “of.”

I am usually giving you the formal edits…

But one of the conversations I used to have with my students (Advanced Placement certainly, but I also would discuss it with 9th graders because, hey, why underestimate them?) was about the modernization of our language. Language evolves, is alive, breathes. We don’t talk like the characters in The Canterbury Tales anymore (thank GOODNESS!) and we don’t talk like Romeo and Juliet either (I say with more of a sigh).

We have more technology now, and our language is responding. We all are learning “texting language” and there are even unstated rules of language etiquette for e-mails and Facebook and the like.

Grammarians like me are often caught twixt and tween. On the one hand, we are nostalgic when conventions we’ve held dear begin to change; on the other, we are eager to quantify and learn the new “rules.”

Sooooooo… To “of”, or not to “of”?  Officially,there is a case that it goes there this time….but there is also much to be said for the fact that it is probably on its way out of usage. Go with your inner ear on that one. 🙂

Yay for questions about grammar! I love them!

 

I am not sure why, when I was made, I was made to love languages and their rules. Not really party topics, I know… However, the amount of joy I derive from looking at grammar texts and convention rules and then teaching that knowledge seems unbounded. If anyone else out there would like to hire an editor for a project, I promise I won’t make you diagram sentences—that’s a little treat I save only for special occasions. 😉

Gather joy in the details!

The kiddos and I had a playdate this afternoon at my friend Sana’s house. I have met few people as genuinely open and welcoming as Sana is, so full of light and so able to incorporate anyone into the natural good flow of energy through her home. It is a true spiritual gift Sana has: bringing others into her good word. The busyness of her home is a happy busyness. Children play and learn; there is a freedom to be oneself. There are many things to learn from Sana…

She is a connector. I first noticed this when I met her in Toastmasters and then from reading and editing her blog. She is the kind of person everyone loves to be around: positive, non-judging, uplifting, sincere, comforting, gracious.

Sana reminded me today of how important and beautiful it is to connect with others. Life is brighter, more creative, and honest when we do. Some of us will work on our ability to connect all of our lives; those, like Sana, who are graced with the natural gift of it, can teach us how. I think it starts with authenticity, and using one’s authenticity and warmth to bring out the best in other people.

Katie, and Eric, and I had such a fun day! I want so much to write more tonight about the way that the Universe gives bits of light to us in the forms of people, and we have only to listen to uncover great truths. Yet I am needed elsewhere at the moment by one of my children. So, until next time, thank you for connecting with me, my friends who read these words.

Let us gather our joy by connecting with others and bringing out their inner lights.

Tonight was a three-song night for Eric, although it was a one-song night for Katie. Nightly bedtime is 8:00PM in our house, by the time we finishing reading, bundling, getting water, brushing teeth, etc. Eric is usually so pleased to be in his crib that he falls asleep by the time Katie’s teeth are brushed. He’s my sleeper. Katie is my live-life-to-the-full girl, hardly recognizing her own tiredness. Tonight, though, Eric needed a little extra rocking, song singing, and gum-rubbing. When I came in for his second cuddle, he looked at me with his big baby eyes and reached out to my face. Sure enough, after two more songs, he was peacefully sucking his thumb and both kiddos were asleep by 8:20. My husband now, too, I think. The running joke in our house is what song from The Sound of Music my husband should hear each night? (Katie’s special song is “My Favorite Things” and Eric’s is “The Sound of Music”).

It’s been a busy day, too. In between throwing a stuffed doggy birthday party, going to my annual appointment at Temecula Valley OB/GYN, dancing to Raffi, and sipping some PG Tips from my cousin Hannah, I actually had a moment to get some housework done. Whoa. I am pretty obsessive about vacuuming, and I try to keep up with the bathrooms and kitchen, but today I had a moment to start whittling away at the other little things that always need to be done, such as the dusting and polishing.

Dusting and polishing tends to be toward the bottom of my list when it comes to housework, and yet it is one of the most satisfying chores to have done. All the wood and glass has an extra sparkle, the light bouncing off in new ways. Everything feels twinkly and smells of lemon oil and Windex. Katie usually helps me with her own rag, but today I gave her a break and Eric helped instead, traveling around with me in his Baby Bjorn harness carrier.

When I began today, though, it felt like such a chore. I thought of my aunt’s remark once about why she chooses to clean her own house: “Why pay someone to do it when I can do it myself?” Spoken like a Matics. Today I could think of a million reasons why: chores can be tedious, never-ending, not-so-interesting, not fun. We tried a few cleaning services once, back when I was still working. Neither my husband or I could ever get used to strangers in our most personal of spaces, and one woman turned out toilet seat blue and we came upon another eating our Pez. Of all things. There was another woman, one we liked and kept for a long time, but she had to move. It was near then that I had decided to take a leave of absence from teaching, and I thought it made the best sense to take over the cleaning.

Thank all that is good for parents that taught me how to do chores when I was growing up. It was expected that I would help my mom clean our house, up through high school. Dusting and polishing was, in fact, my main chore, but I experienced all of them. Let me tell you, my parents have a LOT of wood. It took at least a couple of hours to do it all and do it right. I am sure that I grumbled at least a few times, but in retrospect, I am glad they made me pull my weight and valued my contribution as a family member. Moreso, I am thankful they instilled the discipline to do and finish a job right, even in moments when I didn’t want to. It taught me to pull myself up and get-er-done. How many more times I have had to “get-er-done” with respect to many parts of my adult life, I cannot even begin to say. I am grateful for the training.

It’s those old farm values again.

I am a little bit sloppier, now and then, dusting my own wooden pieces, I’ll admit it. Yet every once in awhile, I get back into my groove with my polish and my rag and let my mind wander. I dust my the big picture frame on the wall, and I let my mind wander over the images inside: the lighthouse at Point Reyes, one of my favorite places in the world; my mom and I hiking in Muir Woods; the California coast. I polish my hanging curio cabinet and dust the tiny china teacup and saucer inside: it belonged to my great-grandmother Sarah McClain (who was later Sarah Matics—like me—when she married Guy), and she earned it in 1909 for perfect Sunday school attendance. It is over 100 years old…. Eric tries to suck on my finger, woops, it is too oily…better finish up here and get him settled. Katie is ready, too, for her doggy birthday party.

My friend Sana recently wrote in her blog about this human quality of work and of caring for her home (“Feeling Human. Get to Work.”) She opens her piece with a thought that, I think, is profound:

“Some days, I feel more human than others.  Today was one of those days.  ”Chalk full,” as my Aussie-friend says, with stuff.  Started when I got up with the usual dishes, laundry, breakfast and such.  Thankful for it you know.  Means we’re living here.” (Sana Johnson-Quijada, posted 12/22/2010)

This part, here: “Thankful for it you know. Means we’re living here.” It has stayed with me. I thought of Sana’s words again today. Just at the moment when I was thinking about how there is always cleaning and tidying to be done, how it never is all perfectly returned to order, along came her words of wisdom. Means we’re living here. Yes, yes. Just at the moment when I was tempted to dust off my old nemesis perfectionism… The dishes by the sink, the dust that gathers on the sideboard while I spend days playing with my children instead of polishing, the blocks strewn on the floor, the couch pillow that toppled off: signs that we are here and are alive and rolling with the flow. The signs of my children, and my husband, and myself. Even chores that never end can be perfect in their own way.

Even mess can be beautiful, interpreted through a joyful, open lens.

Today there was a way to gather joy amidst the gathered dust.

Working as a freelance editor on my friend Sana’s blog Friend to Yourself , I must have revision on my mind. Or perhaps it is the coming of the new year, or even the desire to find new order after the inner turmoil caused by the passing of my grandpa on Christmas Eve. Whatever the cause, I decided to rearrange our formal living room today. The room off of the dining room has not seen too much use since we’ve lived here. Our family room, directly adjacent to my kitchen, usually holds our toys, special blankies, books, and laughter.

With our Christmas tree in our more formal living room this year, the kiddos and I spent many a December morning playing and reading in it. We noticed that that particular room is one of the brightest in our home. It is also one of the only spaces in our house without wooden floors—floors that, even covered with large rugs topped with a blanket, are a bit hard for Eric’s baby body. Carpeted and light, our living room has become a favorite place to play this past month. Still, some of the furniture was not arranged conducive to moving around well. With the Christmas tree now put out, there was space to move our couch in front of the big window, and we were able to keep one of our sitting chairs in the alcove by the stairs, freeing up more space for the flow of our energy. Everything looks, and more importantly feels,  so much cozier, and we have a new play space. What is the sense in having delightful spaces if we reserve them only for formality?

I love to revise my spaces periodically. There is the feeling that we will inscribe new memories upon those spaces. We have a new freedom in that room that we did not have previously. A glorious openness and flow of light energize the downstairs. The “bird in my hand” is knowing that I did not have to purchase anything in order to make the revision—so often we can move around what we already have, both physically and metaphorically as we look for the joys within us and bring them to the surface.

To celebrate, Katie and I shared teatime today in our rearranged room. My cousin Hannah (actually my cousin Brandon’s wife and like a sister to me) gave me a beautiful birthday present: a basketful of English teatime treats. She is English, and she has shown me the delights of Yorkshire tea and PG Tips. I made an herbal tea for Katie, and we both took milk. We shared Walker shortbread and Hob Nobs and a bit of Cadbury chocolate during our tea today. We served our treats on my Uncle Eric’s serving dish. Why not use our special heirlooms and bring new life to them?

Eric played on the floor nearby, and we listened to some of our music in the background, just as the rain began to mist downward to the earth.

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” so goes the adage that has been instructive to me since childhood. If we are to create our own joy and our own lives with our own hands, then it has done me well to remember to be grateful for what I already have. A bird in the hand represents, to me, the idea of appreciating what we’ve got. Of looking around and finding contentment in the people, ideas, and moments we hold dear without trying to apprehend more than our share or risking the beauty we already have for selfish or needless pursuit.

It is the lesson Dorothy learned in The Wizard of Oz. To gather our joy, we need to begin in the home, inside of us, in that place deep within where the authentic self dwells. We recognize the birdsong—the freely winging sounds of joy—that are part of all of us if only we take the time to listen to ourselves.

The image of a “bird in your hand” conjures for me, also, an ancient writing tool: the quill. I imagine taking a bird feather, dipping it into ink, dripping that ink a bit onto my writer’s bump, and writing my own story—usually in the thick cover of night, a silent time, a time to hear one’s inner singing voice.

We must each hand a hand in writing our own narratives. As I begin the new year, I am enjoying my first freelance editing client, a friend from Toast of the Valley Toastmasters, Dr. Sana Johnson-Quijada. Sana, a psychiatrist, writes a tip a day on how to be a friend to yourself at http://www.friendtoyourself.com . What moves me most about her work is her authentic voice, a voice which urges readers gently toward self-care. Self-care, like writing, is a process of constant revision. We must constantly revise ourselves, hone the language of our personal stories, and gather our authentic joy.

Blogging for many years, I have most recently been keeping our McGaugh Family blog at  http://sarahmcgaugh.blogspot.com.  Focused on finding beauty in daily existence with my husband and children, it is time to merge my interests of gathering joy, writing, and helping others with their writing into one location: birdinyourhand. Writing is a way to keep our eye trained on our authentic selves, and I would welcome the chance to help other writers to find their voices while continuing to find my own. Periodically I will post excerpts of the work Sana and I are doing together—well, really, she is doing all the work of finding her innermost thoughts to help others, and I proofread it. Other times, I will post my own writing, reflecting upon the way our actions and our perspectives write our history.

The first action is to cultivate a spirit of gratitude, and in this, to remember the bird in your hand.

As the new year begins, we know we have many opportunities to create for ourselves, and to give to others, new joy.

Let us gather our joy through writing together and through listening to our birdsong voice that flutters in our hearts.