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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?”


    • Alexandra says

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

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

    • Alexandra says

      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!

  2. 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.

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