Let’s Get Definitive

Following on from yesterday’s post on spelling and grammar, I thought to bore you senseless with the Indefinite Article, and Split Infinitives. And who doesn’t want to split their infinitive, right?

Unlike the Definite Article The, A and AN refer to someone or something whose precise identity is not specified. And, although they are among the most common words in the English language, confusion still arises as to which should be used when. So here’s a reminder.

A is used:
(i) before all consonants: a woman, a tree, a rock.
(ii) before an aspirated h: a horse, a hero, a humorist.
(iii) before the letter u when sounded like ‘you’: a unit, a use, a union.
(iv) before a diphthong eu: a European, a eulogy.
(v) before words beginning with y: a year, a yellow balloon, a youth.

AN is used:
(i) before a vowel sound: an animal, an example, an umbrella.
(ii) before a mute h: an hour, an honest woman, an historian.

A split infinitive occurs when to is separated from the infinitive by an adverb or adverbial phrase. It used to be considered the cardinal sin of good English, but it’s now accepted that there are many instances when a split infinitive is justified. In general, however, it is easy enough to avoid.

(i) She did not want to entirely surrender to his will.
(ii) He was instructed to discreetly talk to the Press.

In both sentences there is no need for the split infinitive, as the adverb (entirely, discreetly) can be placed outside the infinitive like this:

(i) She did not want to surrender entirely to his will.
(ii) He was instructed to talk to the Press discreetly. or,
(iii) He was instructed to talk discreetly to the Press.

The easiest rule to remember about the split infinitive is to avoid it, as long as there is no doubt that the meaning will be ambiguous or awkwardly expressed as a result.

I can hear you all mumbling into your coffee; “Yes, but what is the woman talking about?”

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  1. November 29, 2018

    Haha! Best not to know or use!

    I always look up upon you as my English guru!

    Here’s a question for you. Which one of the following is correct?

    A. A couple of girls is sitting on the bench.
    B. A couple of girls are sitting on the bench.

    • November 30, 2018

      Ha! Ha! I always knew I had it in me to be someone’s guru, Veronica. 😉

      As to the statements, both are acceptable these days. But, in my day, in the UK, it would be “are” as there is more than one girl. John is sitting, but Janet and John are sitting.

      • November 30, 2018

        Thanks! English is confuzzling!

        • Alexandra
          December 1, 2018

          Oh, yeah, and then some!

  2. November 4, 2018

    These posts are brilliant. I like to think my grammar is pretty good, but it’s been well over 20 years since I had it drummed in to me and I know I’ve picked up bad habits (and likely some confusion) along the way.

    • Alexandra
      November 4, 2018

      Thanks, Imyril, we can always do with a refresher. ☺️

  3. October 31, 2018

    Ha! Love this.
    Never knew what a split infinitive was, but i don’t think i ever used it. Too many words, haha 😀

    • Alexandra
      October 31, 2018

      It’s probably archaic these days, and anyone who did Eng Lang at school is probably inured against it, like dangling a participle, it’s old fashioned. Now it’s all LOL, LMAO, IMHO! Ha! Ha!

  4. October 30, 2018

    No mumbling into my coffee, taking notes Alexandra!!

    • Alexandra
      October 30, 2018

      Fantastic, Sophie! ☺️

  5. Ha I think I get it, don’t use the split infinitive 🙂 !

    • Alexandra
      October 30, 2018

      Heh! Heh! You got it in one, Sweetie! The best way to avoid something is don’t encourage it to begin with. 😀

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