to boldly split when i want to split

Call me corny, but my bedtime reading these days is “How to Write Better English” (Penguin Writers’ Guides, by Robert Allen), a style and grammar handbook I got at Fully Booked a few months ago. I write and speak English mostly by earhow-to-write-better-english.jpg, you see, and my formal English education had been spotty at best, hence my desire to improve. I learned English mainly through reading fiction and watching films, not through hitting the grammar books. I have never diagrammed a sentence in my life, for example. My English is generally okay, but sometimes I get stumped by something that doesn’t really sound right, only I can’t explain exactly what’s wrong and I can’t figure out how to repair it.

Anyway, the book has been very helpful; it’s a handy resource for most of my nagging little grammatical concerns and I see that it really is going to help improve my English. Also, it has liberated me from insecurities/uncertainties over certain so-called “rules” that turn out to be no more than traditional precepts of old-fashioned grammarians.

For example, the split infinitive. You often hear grammarians bewail split infinitives, or people who take pride in their English because they never split their infinitives. I for one did not even know what split infinitives were, and in all probability have been blissfully, ignorantly splitting them my entire life, but I’ve heard enough objections against it to make me wonder. However, the book says that infinitives have been split since Middle English, but somehow through the years it fell into disfavor until it became a grammatical pariah sometime, oh I don’t know, in the last century or so. The book points out that “there is no grammatical reason for always keeping two parts of an infinitive together (emphasis mine).” Insisting on it sometimes lead to awkward or stylistically poor sentences, such as (examples in the book): “She used secretly to admire him,” or “The Education Secretary has set out proposals that attempt radically to change the way in which pupils apply for university places.” Even my Google search results now agree that it’s not always wrong to split infinitives, so how come this so-called rule still persists?

So if you feel that it will make your meaning clearer, go ahead and split those infinitives. You have legitimate reason, and anybody who would insist otherwise is just some overbearing pedantic snob who probably suffered very deeply at the hands of a terror high school English teacher.

You know how Word grammar check would sometimes “green-mark” your “which” clauses and insist that you put a comma right before? You can ignore it, it’s not always correct.

The rule on never beginning a sentence with “And” or “But?” Generally legitimate rule, but in informal situations or if you deliberately want to emphasize something just go ahead and do it.

Or consider the rule on never ending sentences with a preposition. Always insisting on this can be preposterous. Again, it’s all about context (is it a formal document?), or the tone that you want to achieve. For example, would you say (or write):

“You’re the one I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
“You’re the one with whom I want to spend the rest of my life.”

Kadiri yung second no? Baka magdalawang-isip pa yung kausap mo about spending the rest of his/her life with such a stuffy bore.

However, if you write “ur d 1 i wnt 2 spnd d rst f my lyf w/” you’d get totally no sympathy from me.


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6 thoughts on “to boldly split when i want to split

  1. Scarlett January 27, 2008 at 5:29 am Reply

    Hahaha. Just like you, I speak and write english by ear. I am not a perfectly skilled grammar police. Though I can basically make out an obvious grammatical error…hehehe.

    This book is interesting. Maybe I’ll get one too. To further boost my confidence.




  2. Mika January 27, 2008 at 9:09 am Reply

    Funny, I adhere to the following: 1) never splitting infinitives; 2) “which” always being preceded by a comma (as opposed to “that”, which is never preceded by a comma); 3) not starting sentences with “and” or “but”, at least not in formal documents.

    Goodness. This is what having a separate Grammar class (as opposed to plain English class) in St. Scho does.


  3. rina January 29, 2008 at 2:41 am Reply

    scarlett: if you love reading (good books at least), i dare say you’ll be fine, you’ll pick things up!

    mika: re the “which,” matagal na kong naiinis sa Word dyan e. turns out meron daw “restrictive” and “non-restrictive” clause, at dun sa restrictive clause kailangan may comma before the which. definitely not all the time.

    one should follow the rules, of course, but not to the extent of cramping one’s style. in formal documents, of course, well, no choice, you have to be formal (ggrrrr, he he)


  4. Mika January 29, 2008 at 3:13 pm Reply

    Hmm, turo sa amin dati laging may comma before “which” and that it also had something to do with the nature of the information that follows “which.” Never mind. The point is, we would have tests on grammar rules! LOL. (I know I have my handbook here somewhere.)


  5. jen February 7, 2008 at 3:35 pm Reply

    aha! kaya pala ganun yung “which” and “that” sa word! thanks for the blog! very helpful! wish may time ako to read grammar books! :- ) next year maybe…


  6. Swipe March 5, 2008 at 10:59 pm Reply

    I’ve been splitting infinitives for ages and I didn’t know that there was some rule against it.

    The rule on not ending sentences with prepositions I’ve known a while but continuously disregarded for style and ease of reading. Besides, English is still a living language – it is bound to evolve and develop.


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