Why it is okay to split infinitives

Whenever a Star Trek movie hits the big screen the USS Enterprise’s mission is, as always, ‘to boldly go…’. Meanwhile, down here on earth a debate Mr Spock would surely consider illogical re-ignites. Should we split our infinitives?

The answer is yes, no or maybe, depending on your personal preference or corporate style guidelines. But what matters more – rules or readability? Copy needs to flow easily and splitting infinitives is no longer such a serious rule breaker.

Indeed, the Smithsonian describes split infinitives as one of many ‘phoney rules’ in grammar. Oxford University Press supports the view, saying objectors have no real justification. OUP notes ‘people have been splitting infinitives for centuries’. Or longer, in Captain Kirk’s case.

The conversational tone you see in good corporate writing has room for flexibility. The best corporate style embraces George Orwell’s advice to break rules rather than say ‘anything outright barbarous’. However, a line should be drawn, and phasers set to stun, in the fight against sloppy copy.

If the split infinitive scans okay, then it probably is okay. When you think about it, if Kirk & co had instead decided ‘to go boldly’ they might not have gone quite so far.