Tuesday’s Tutor: To soundly, deeply sleep; perchance to even dream: ay, there’s the rub . . . Shakespeare

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

Writer’s Digest has a wonderful column entitled “Questions & Quandaries” by their online editor, Brian A. Klems. He has answers for knotty grammar and technical questions. The May/June 2013 issue talked about the “problem” of split infinitives.

Now, the picture he sports online is that of a nice-looking young man with an engaging smile. I’m guessing here—it could possibly be an old picture—but I’d say he’s years younger than I am. In fact, I have many former students, with whom I am fortunately still in touch, who are older than he—or seem to be.

He claims to have “ . . . had many teachers who taught [him] not to split infinitives . . . ), but there is “ . . . actually no rule that says you can’t . . . ” —though, thankfully, he advises not to because “. . . most of the time, sentences are stronger when infinitives are kept intact.”

I remember, back in the Dark Ages, when there was a very definite rule not to split infinitives. Every teacher spouted it. We didn’t have books, at that time, like Eats, Shoots and Leaves (or Eats Shoots and Leaves?), or, heaven forbid, The Comma Sutra, to explain all the arcane intricacies of language. (Well, Strunk and White’s classic, The Elements of Style, may already have been extant . . . hasn’t it been around forEVER?)

So, what’s an infinitive? And why is it a problem? The infinitive form of a verb, the most basic form, is “to sleep,” “to dream,” “to write,” etc. In many other languages, you cannot “split the infinitive” . . . because it’s only one word: in French you would see “dormir,” “rêver,”and “êcrire” for to sleep, to dream, and to write. Spanish is the same, as are a number of other languages. So, in English, we tried—through “rules,” and intimidation, and threats of failures on English grades—to treat English verbs all-in-one, like other languages.

That said, Brian A. Klems points out how split infinitives annoy some editors, your blog readers may blame you for “lazy” writing, and they usually involve the use of the dreaded adverb, etc.

Take a look at the heading on this blog—how convoluted and over-written is the immortal line from Shakespeare? Had he kept the two words of the infinitive together, how much stronger a line would it be, and how much more memorable? Oh, wait! He did keep them together: “To sleep; perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.”


See you day-after-tomorrow for Thursday’s 13!

Have questions about writing (grammar, punctuation, getting published, etc.)?  Brenda Bensch, M.A., a teacher of multiple decades’ experience in Utah’s university/high school/community ed. classrooms (English, fiction/non-fiction writing, study skills, drama, humanities, debate, etc.), invites you to “Ask The Teacher” at  http://BenschWensch.wordpress.com


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