Salley Vickers, Angelica Goodden, John Doherty, Eddy York and Barbara Benedict weigh in on an eternal linguistic debate
Re David Roberts’ letter deploring your use of a split infinitive (29 June); Fowler, the acknowledged authority on English usage, says: “The split infinitive is … best avoided, especially when it is stylistically awkward. But it is not a major error nor a grammatical blunder; it is acceptable, even necessary, when considerations of rhythm and clarity require it.” What’s good enough for Fowler is good enough for me.
• The “rule” about not splitting infinitives doesn’t apply to English: it derives from the mistaken notion that the English verb consists in a single word that mustn’t be interrupted in the middle, in common with Latin and the Romance languages derived from it. “To hardly try” is correct English; “to try hardly” is nonsense, and “hardly to try” in most contexts sounds formal. I always encourage students to write expressively, which often entails putting something (normally an adverb) between “to” and whatever verb is being used.
Emeritus professor of French, University of Oxford