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Rosie Right


To not split an infinitive?

A sharp-eyed reader has written to reprove Style for a headline that used a split infinitive. He took objection to our headline: "Pastors Fight to Not Protect Gays" (Street Talk, Jan. 9).

Our news editor Scott Bass wrote in response: "Thanks for pointing this out. I wrote the headline and didn't give it much thought. I'm OK with split infinitives if it pleases the ear, and at times can be used effectively. Others around here might not agree, but in this case 'fight not' comes off as a bit haughty, and the point was to skew the common refrain 'fight to protect' just slightly. It is awkward though, and perhaps I should have come up with a better headline."

This was quite a graceful response because the jury is out about split infinitives. In fact, this is one of those happy occasions when we can say that each side of the discussion has a good argument.

Split infinitives -- a construction in which an adverbial modifier comes between to and the infinitive itself — have been the subject of discussion since the early 19th century. According to Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, the attempt to avoid a split infinitive can change the emphasis of a writer's statement and in such cases should be avoided. In fact, the editors say that "the consensus in the 20th century … seems to be that awkward avoidance of the split infinitive has produced more bad writing than the use of it."

On the other hand, the same Webster's tells us to "avoid split infinitives except when splitting one improves clarity. Since improved clarity is often the purpose and result of a split infinitive, the advice does not amount to much. The result is you can split them when you need to."

This leaves our reader and editor both correct in their discussion. But Style will certainly try to be aware of the dangers of making our readers more conscious of our grammar than what we are trying to say.

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Sovereign wealth funds — Funds set up by governments for investment. They are used by these governments to handle their savings. The most commonly discussed examples are those funds managed by China that invest in stocks of U.S. companies. They are set up when a nation's consumption is less than its production. Source: The Economist.

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