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Thursday, October 20, 2011

To Split or Not to Split the Infinitive: Just Some Grammar Stuff

My internship boss and I were talking about when and if it is okay to split infinitives. The particular phrase in question was "to move rapidly" or "to rapidly move." While discussing this, I began thinking about other grammar things that bother me (probably thanks to the news editing class I've been taking...the professor is a self-proclaimed grammar snob). So here is a short list of commonly misused words/phrases/technicalities/etc. Most of the answers I found in my Grammar Girl or AP book, or from my grammar snob professor.
  • splitting infinitives: Infinitives are forms of verbs, when the "to" form of the verb stands alone or with the "to." For example: walk, to walk; make, to make; go, to go. Splitting an infinitive is when you place the adverb between the written or invisible "to," as in "to rapidly move." Grammar Girl says that the notion to not split infinitives came from the fact that in Latin it is impossible to split infinitives, so it shouldn't be done in English. However, it is acceptable to split infinitives. But be careful, because where you place the adverb changes the meaning of the sentence.
  • fewer/less: The other day when I was watching a car commercial, I heard the voice over say, "Now with less doors." This grated on my grammar mind. It should have been, "Now with fewer doors." Although both words indicate a decrease in quantity or number, there are rules dictating when to use which word. Here's an easy way to remember: if the noun is countable (like "minutes"), then it is fewer; if the noun cannot be counted, (like "time") then it is less. In this example, "time" is something that can be counted, but only if you quantify it in seconds, minutes, hours, etc. Less time, fewer [units of time]. 
  • " "?/" ?"/" .": When to put punctuation inside our outside the quotation marks, specifically question marks and periods. If what is being quoted is a question, then put the question mark inside the end quotation mark: Monica asked, "Is it okay to split infinitives?" If the sentence is asking a question, but the quote is not the question, then put the question mark outside the end quotation mark: Do you know what she meant when she said "splitting infinitives"? A period is always put inside end quotation marks. Never use double punctuation (like " !". or " ."? or " ."? etc.). <--[unless it is a parenthesis situation like this] 
  • who or whom: A shortcut to remember when to use "whom," is that "whom" is used whenever there is a preposition right before it. Examples are: to whom, for whom, from whom. The actual rule is use "who" when it is the subject of the sentence and use "whom" when it is the object of the sentence. "Who wants to split infinitives?" "Whom do you want to help split infinitives?"
  • is and are: This is incredibly basic, but people, including myself, still misuse these words. Most of the time it is when we are speaking, because we cannot proofread what we say or because we use the verb before we decide on the noun. When to use is and are is based on if the noun is singular or plural (subject/verb agreement). Sounds easy, but sometimes this can be confusing to figure out. When referring to an organization, company, publication, or anything like that, use "is." This is because you are referring to the organization as a whole, an entity. Use "are" when you are referring to two or more things, such as several individuals from the organization. "The New York Times is" and "The New York Times editors are."
    • You are
    • They are
    • She is
    • He is
    • It is
    • The organization is
    • The organization's members are

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