Serving students and faculty since 1971

Grandma Knowknow

Eat Your Peas and Carrots and Don’t Split Your Infinitives.

Dissociative Infinitive Disorder (a.k.a. split infinitive disease) is a linguistic ailment associated with early grammar trauma and characterized by adverbial intrusion of the full infinitive.

What Is Dissociative Infinitive Disorder?

Most of us have experienced mild cases of infinitive dissociation, but to fully understand split infinitive disease we will first need to clearly define what an infinitive is. According to Wikipedia, “an infinitive is a grammatical term used to refer to certain verb forms that exist in many languages.” Well that’s not a very satisfying definition. Leave it to Wikipedia to utterly fail in its attempt to profoundly contribute anything useful to academic research. To further clarify, the English language has two types of infinitives: bare and full. Bare infinitives are simply the verbs one is most likely to easily find in the dictionary. Some examples are: understand, define and fail. A full infinitive, on the other hand is simply a bare verb with the word ‘to’ placed in front of it. Some examples are: to understand, to define and to fail. To ‘split’ an infinitive means to carelessly place an adverb between the ‘to’ and whichever verb one chooses to cleverly employ. Some examples are: to fully understand, to clearly define and to utterly fail.

Is Dissociative Infinitive Disorder a Real Problem?

Grammarians have begun to genuinely wonder if Dissociative Infinitive Disorder is an ailment to really worry about. It might help if speakers and writers were to completely understand the origin of the ‘split infinitive’ rule. To fully appreciate Dissociative Infinitive Disorder we must resolve to admiringly thank our Victorian ancestors whose devotion to Latin led to many of the grammatical rules that we are forced to faithfully learn in grammar school today. Without going into a primer on Latin, basically the Victorian grammarians decided that, since Latin does not allow speakers to ever split infinitives, neither should English.

The Outlook for Those with Dissociative Infinitive Disorder.

The good news for those of us that tend to inadvertently insert adverbs between the ‘to’ and its infinitive verb is that the rules of common usage (common sense) are coming to quickly rescue us. The bad news, however, is many teachers don’t fully understand Dissociative Infinitive Disorder and delight in their ability to easily find split infinitives in student writing. So, at least in academic writing, it is best to always avoid splitting infinitives. It appears that those of us who suffer from Dissociative Infinitive Disorder will continue to vainly struggle against the overbearing tendency of academia to blandly throttle our creativity.