Sunday, January 02, 2011

Sample Sunday: There, Their, They're

Sample Sunday is for authors to share a bit of their Kindle-published titles. I'll post a sample of Lost Without You sometime soon, but today I thought I'd put up a piece from my grammar book, There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd, which is now on Kindle for all of 99 cents.

Below is the section that discusses splitting infinitives: what does it mean to split an infinitive, and is it wrong to do so?

(Check out the #SampleSunday hash tag on Twitter to read other samples from Kindle authors.)

Splitting Infinitives

At some point in history, grammarians and teachers decided that Latin, a dead language, should be our guide. Why it made any sense to use another language to prescribe English grammar, I’ll never know, but Latin is the basis for the argument that we shouldn’t split infinitives (and a bunch of other silly grammar “rules”).

Here’s the crux of the old argument: In most languages, the infinitive or base form of a verb is a single word.

Since I know Finnish best, I’ll use it as our example.

Finnish: olla

English: to be

You can’t take the Finnish olla and split it up. It’s one word. The same holds true for the French ĂȘtre and the Spanish ser. The infinitive is one word. Of course you can’t split it up and have it make any sense.

But English has two words for the infinitive: to be. So, heck, let’s throw something between them: to happily be

That’s what is called a split infinitive. Frankly, unless you’re writing a paper for cranky Mrs. Robinson from eighth grade who insists on her students abiding by antiquated rules, split infinitives to your heart’s content. Although you shouldn’t overuse any construction, splitting an infinitive isn’t wrong.

Consider how utterly flat the classic tagline from Star Trek would be if it held to this “rule”:

To go boldly where no man has gone before.

Sorry, Mrs. Robinson. That lacks punch. It’s lame. We really need to split that infinitive:

To boldly go where no man has gone before.

Whether you like Vulcans or avoid them like a bad rash, you have to agree that the original tagline is the superior one.

From Chapter 2: Grammar Grapples, There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd


Tristi Pinkston said...

I think lots of people are going to benefit from these tidbits ... and they should buy the book, too. :)

There are some split infinitives that read awkwardly, and others that don't - it's probably one of those things to take on a case by basis. Especially if it's a common phrase, and you rework it so as not to split it, and then it's just really awkward. :)

Jeff and Rebecca said...

Thanks for sharing that excerpt, Annette. I really enjoy reading your blog, and the way you explain grammar is entertaining and easy to understand. I always used to imagine myself very learned in the subject of English and grammar, but lately I have come to the realization that really I'm not. :) So I'm glad to see that you really *are* proficient in that, and you share it with the rest of us, so we can nod sagely and agree with you. :D

Susan Anderson said...

Sometimes I really do like the sound of a split infinitive better...and I just allow myself the poetic license of doing it.

I never did it in English papers, though...


Anonymous said...

Your book is a STAPLE while I'm writing. I don't know how I got along without it before. And .99! How can you even beat that?!

Erin said...

I'm going to go buy it on the Kindle right now! Thanks!

Author Joshua Hoyt said...

It's a good book with lots of resources!

Shanda said...

So THAT'S what "split infinitives" means. I'm sure I knew at one time, but I've forgotten a lot since AP English.

I really need to read your entire book. I have a copy that I happily purchased, but haven't read through it all.

Oh, and I paid more than 99 cents (it's worth much more) and I would happily pay more than that again!

Shanda :)


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