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  • Re. the so-called ‘split infinitive’, a topic that has cropped up from time to time in this blog.
    The description of the ‘Italian MPs chided for macho language’ item includes this sentence:
    “She is urging them immediately to start using the feminine forms of these words during debates and in official documents.”
    But she isn’t urging them immediately, is she? She’s urging them to immediately start using the feminine forms.

  • Well spotted, Jonathan. I simply copied the line over from the BBC News website. I don’t know if they have a stylistic prohibition of ‘so-called split infinitives’ or if it’s the personal choice of the writer. But you’re right to say it would be clearer if written as you suggest.

  • Jonathan, Liz: Thanks for this latest illustration of the idiocy of the “rule” against splitting infinitives. We can add that sentence to the ones in our Real Grammar post on this issue.
    It demonstrates that when people shift the adverb leftwards in order to avoid the “sin” of a splitting an infinitive, the result is not only clunky and inelegant, but downright misleading. Of all the peeves that prescriptivists waste their time worrying about, this must be one of the most ridiculous. As far as BBC policy goes, I suspect that they have no objection in principle to split infinitives, but they avoid them simply because, if they didn’t, they would be inundated by complaints from pedants up and down the land. I urge everyone to immediately start splitting infinitives.

  • The latest BBC Style Guide says: “Split infinitives are not banned. By all means, split the infinitive if the alternative looks ugly – eg: He said his wages were going to more than double.”
    The previous edition (PDF) was more extensive: “Is it all right to split an infinitive? There is no grammatical rule which says you cannot do so, but there are grammatical martinets everywhere who get almost apoplectic if they hear one. Sometimes, it is definitely better to split: Can dot.com companies ever hope to fully recover their share values? This sounds much better than moving fully in front of to recover or behind it.The key is not to write anything which is ambiguous or inelegant.”
    Then it quotes K. Amis’s unhelpful equivocation: “I personally think that to split an infinitive is perfectly legitimate, but I do my best never to split one in public and I would certainly not advise anybody else to do so, even today.” Pah!