General Writing and Grammar Help/split Infinitives



Can an adverb modify an infinitive by preceding it? Here is an example:

... to run slowly ...

... to slowly run ... not generally formal English (split infinitive)

... slowly to run ...

I thank you for your reply.

You are correct.  Infinitive should not be split.  Even Captain Kirk knows that now!  Something on TV had him speaking, and he paused and looked right into the camera slyly before he read the script, which had an infinitive construction just "begging" to be split.  I had to chuckle.  Inside joke.  Only we "old-timers" remember the dust-up over the split infinitive.


The problem with splitting infinitives is that when it happens, the adverb gives information to the reader before the verb in root form appears! The reader is predisposed how to react to the root verb when it arrives.

To boldly go where no man....
should be
To go boldly where no man....
Boldly to go where no man....


A similar problem is with =only=.
I can read only if it's quiet. [I need a quiet atmosphere in order to read.]
I can only read if it's quiet. [I can't do anything else but read when it's quiet.]

In this case, the sentences mean two different things.  

In the case of a split infinitive, the meaning is not changed.


To answer your question, yes, the adverb can precede.  This is completely correct.  It is *required* in any formal writing, whether it's a speech or a research paper or a composition or a business presentation.  Someone's intelligence is judged by the quality of the person's grammar.  When writing something important, grammar must be correct; or the listener or reader will thing your material is probably wrong!

As you point out, the options here are
to run slowly
slowly to run

I think what bothers you is that when the adverb precedes, the verb group is clumsy. Because it's a clumsy construction, many people put the adverb right next to the root verb it modifies, which is between =to= and =run=.

When the adverb is after the verb group, you don't get that "predisposition" to a certain interpretation, plus it doesn't occur to most people to put the adverb after the root verb.


While it's not incorrect to put the adverb before the infinitive form, it's clumsy.  I suggest you put it after the root.

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Martha Beth Lewis


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