What Is a Split Infinitive?

An infinitive (to go, to win, to think) is split when a word appears between to and the verb.

  • I want to never think about this again.
  • Farley hopes to finally win a match today.
  • The cat needed to promptly go out again as soon as she was let in.
  • The AI has learned to automatically lower its voice when a user is upset.

An infinitive is the basic form of the verb, generally accompanied by to: to + verb (e.g., to run, to swim, to know). The word that splits the infinitive is usually an adverb, which adds to the meaning of the verb within the infinitive. For example, the infinitive to know can be split by an adverb like never: to never know.

Is it wrong to split an infinitive?

It’s perfectly fine to split the infinitive in English. We often do this to emphasize the adverb.

  • I want to always be there for you.
  • Cats tend to immediately identify that one person in the room who doesn’t like cats.
  • He needs to not worry so much about everything.
  • She likes to quietly watch TV when everyone’s asleep.

Some people consider splitting the infinitive inelegant, perhaps because Latin does not allow it. However, in Latin, the infinitive is one word, whereas in English, the infinitive is made up of two words—to plus a verb—which can grammatically be split. In fact, splitting the infinitive can sometimes be important to convey the right meaning.

  • I really want to change things.
    conveys determination to change things
    I want to really change things.
    emphasizes how much things will change

Words that split an infinitive

Most often, it is adverbs such as not, never, always, only, and just that split the infinitive. These words generally appear right beside the verbs they describe. Splitting the infinitive can then help make the sentence clearer for the reader and also lay stress on the adverb.

  • Maya wants to not stay here any longer.
  • Lulu wishes to never get old.
  • I promise to always love you.
  • Do you promise to only read what I have written and not edit it?
  • Do you plan to just ride or drive as well?
  • I hope to soon have the answer.
  • Maya hopes to finally buy a house this year.

Intensifiers, which are adverbs that lend force or emphasis to a verb, often split the infinitive.

  • It’s impossible to really know someone.
  • I mean to truly make a difference.

Examples from literature

Here are some examples of the split infinitive from published content. Note how splitting the infinitive can make the sentence clearer and help emphasize the correct word in a sentence.

  • In law it is good policy to never plead what you need not, lest you oblige yourself to prove what you can not.
    Abraham Lincoln, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (published 1953)
  • It seemed that he had caught the fish himself . . . by that unaccountable luck that appears to always wait upon a boy when he plays the wag from school.
    Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (1889)
  • The more I have studied, the greater seems the necessity to utterly stamp him out.
    Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)
  • You kind of feel silly to lie down and die and to never have lived, to have been a job chaser and never have lived.
    Gertrude Stein, Brewsie and Willie (1946)
  • It is so much safer to not feel, not to let the world touch one.
    Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (published 2000)

Quick Quiz

Which of these contains a split infinitive?
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All done!
In which sentence is the word not emphasized?
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Which sentence is grammatically correct?
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All done!