Splitting the infinitive

In prehistoric times it was a major no-no to cheekily separate the particle ‘to’ from its infinitive verb. ‘Do not split the infinitive’ was the law of the land. ‘What in the world are you talking about?’ responded anyone born after 1960. In fact, since that time the rule has more or less been ignored.

And then came its death knell, on September 8, 1966:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. – Star Trek

There is no longer any controversy, and for good or ill, the lowly adverb has flourished (despite ending in ‘-ly’, ‘lowly’ in this sentence is an adjective, and ‘adverb’ is a noun. Had to get that out there). Perhaps an adverb’s highest honor is to breezily insert itself into an otherwise mundane sentence.

An adverb’s highest honor is to breezily insert itself into an otherwise mundane sentence.

An adverb’s highest honor is to insert itself, breezily, into an otherwise mundane sentence.

What if we could do without adverbs altogether? The world would be a better place.

Inserted into an otherwise mundane sentence, the adverb felt mighty proud.

The adverb brightened the terminus of the otherwise mundane sentence.

It worked behind the scenes to buttress the verb’s presentation and eliminate the need for itself. This is an adverb’s highest honor.


Don’t use this word.

Adverbs can be suspect in the best of circumstances. Use them sparingly Be sparing in their usage. One adverb in particular, ‘increasingly‘, gives the writer up as lazy. But for some reason, ‘increasingly’ crept into the lexicon two or three decades ago, used by newspaper reporters as an easy way to reference a trend, even if the trend had just developed over the past few hours instead of, say, months or years.

Most of the aides who had been wandering around the convention center had found refuge backstage, away from the crowds staring at big screens hoping for a victory. “The path kept narrowing and narrowing and narrowing until there wasn’t one,” Parkhomenko recalled. “The mood behind the stage became increasingly grim.” – The Hill

The following trend ‘increased’ over years, until it was ‘resounding’.

Increasingly, leading cities are hiring “data people.” Whether with the title chief data officer, chief innovation officer, performance stat program director, or data scientist, these individuals are looking at government in a new way and using data to increase efficiency. Are these hires worth the investment? Resoundingly, the answer is yes. – GovTech

But why is gradualism so revered by the writer? It is not how the world works. And it might stand in the way of clarity: does she mean that each city is hiring more ‘data people’? Or that more cities are doing the hiring?

  • Increasingly, leading cities are hiring “data people.”
  • Leading cities are hiring more “data people” than ever before.
  • Leading cities are hiring “data people” in record numbers.
  • More leading cities are hiring “data people”.

Perhaps ‘data people’ should be in the lead.

  • Increasingly, leading cities are hiring “data people.”
  • “Data people” are in demand in leading cities.

You have so many options. Don’t use ‘increasingly’, ever. And for sure don’t use it in a song.

Long blends of days
Stream into nights
Consciousness barely coping
The land going by seems level
But really the tracks are
Increasingly sloping.
– ‘Slice of Time’ by David Crosby

Just don’t.