May 19, 2005

Obligatorily split infinitive in real life

I just heard Alex Chadwick, on NPR's program "Day to Day", say the following in a dicussion about military policies on women in combat:

But still, the policy of the Army at that time was not to send — was specifically to not send — women into combat roles.

Note the obligatorily split infinitive. Saying The policy was not to send women into combat was far too likely to be understood as the weaker claim that sending women into combat wasn't the policy, and Alex realized that on the fly, and corrected himself. He wanted to refer to the stronger claim that not sending women into combat was the policy, and there was simply no way for him to do it, given that he was using an infinitival clause after the copula (was), unless he placed not between to and send. So he correctly did so. Far from being ungrammatical, split infinitives are (as we have explained before on Language Log) always an option for modifiers of infinitival clauses, and sometimes the only option. Far from being impermissible, they are sometimes required.

Note added later: I've corrected the quoted sentence (which I originally heard while driving) after listening to the program as archived here.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 19, 2005 01:35 PM