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Friday, March 27, 2009

Oh, Go Ahead and Split Infinitives

“Careers that are not fed soon die as readily as any living organism given no sustenaance." ~ Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Oh, those dreaded split infinitives!

It turns out that they aren't so bad, regardless of what Miss Wilson said when I was in the fourth grade, Miss White in the eighth, and Miss Jones when I took an advanced grammar class in high school.

My grammar pal, June Casagrande (author of Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies), reminds me that Fowler of Elements of Style fame says, "Some infinitives seem to improve on being split, just as a stick of round stovewood does."

He gives the example "I cannot bring myself to really like the fellow." The infinitive "to like" does not much suffer from having 'really' interfere" with the tight-knit club called infinitives. In fact, splitting an infinitive can--on occasion--look so much more natural than trying to keep it whole, that it is better not to try. After all, anything that feels foreign to a reader will slow them down, take them out of the reading. The occasions where that will be you intent will be rare.

One of the times that you certainly won't want to give the reader pause is in your query letter to an agent or publisher. So watch split infinitives. Make your choices carefully. But when it comes to splitting an infinitive before the eyes of a publisher or agent, choose another way of saying what you want to say. No point in risking letting a split infinitive get in the way of getting published.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, is the author of the multi award-winning Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. In the latter she helps authors with all kinds of ways to avoid ticking off an agent or publisher in the final edits of everything from query letters to full manuscripts. Learn more at

Carolyn also edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.

1 comment:

Mayra Calvani said...

thanks for the reminder, Carolyn!

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