I just got word that my short story, "Tick, Thump," is going to soon be darkening the pages of The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society! Announcements forthcoming with regards to when it will be available to read.
Yeah, I was kind of congratulating myself on a recent success and wanted y'all to know about it. Eh, we all know how difficult it is to sell fiction. High fives all around.
But ... did it bother you that I committed a "grammatical error" in my crowing? After all, I split an infinitive.
To understand the error I supposedly committed, it is important that you first understand what an "infinitive" is, so let me define the term for you. Simply put, an infinitive is the most basic form of a verb, usually marked with the introductory word "to."
Here's a small list of infinitives, just so we're clear:
All of these verbs can be changed into past, present, and future tenses---what I have listed is the root form of the verb. This is the definition of an infinitive.
(Side note: Do the above examples throw you into an instant and terrifying memory of sixth grade French class? I cannot write "to be" without running through the various forms of être. Just sayin'....)
The most famous example of a split infinitive comes from Star Trek: The Next Generation. You know, at the beginning of the program where Captain Picard says with a certain commanding pith: "To boldly go where no man has gone before!" And you're like, "Yeah, take me there, Cap'n P.!" not even worrying about the questionable language in the statement.
Guess what? You were right not to worry. The only sin committed in that iconic statement is gender bias.
People assume that it is wrong to split infinitives because our great language has its foundation in Latin, and in Latin it is not possible to split an infinitive---the "to" is simply part of the verb. So, when our language was being standardized, the great minds of the time noticed that native speakers of Latin never split their infinitives and it was suggested that English speakers ought never to do it either. However, since it is possible and quite simple to pull the "to" from its basic verb form---occasionally it is awkward not to---it is mutually agreed that in English, it is perfectly acceptable to break those infinitives up.
A word of caution, however: Often, when we split our infinitives, we do so with an adverb like Captain Picard did ("boldly" is an "ly" word used to describe the verb "go," which makes it an adverb). It is generally recommended that adverbs be kept to the minimum in creative writing. Before you write, "Flailing her arms, Hester began to wildly dance around the room," ask yourself if what you have is the best construction for your sentence. In this example, not only does the split infinitive sound awkward, but it forces the author to use the passive voice. If we were to recast our example sentence to be, "Flailing her arms, Hester danced wildly around the room," we would avoid both the awkward adverb-infinitive construction and make the sentence active.
So when I said in my Facebook boast that my story was going to soon be darkening the pages of a literary magazine, I may have split "to be" but I committed no error. Could I have written it, "I just got word that my short story, 'Tick Thump', will be darkening the pages of the Rain, Party, & Disaster Society soon"? Yeah, I could have. But I didn't.
**EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that it wasn't Captain Picard who was the chauvinist, but his forerunner, Captain Kirk. Thank you for the correction, Joe Barron, and forgive me, Captain P.!