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  1. #11
    JJM Ballantyne is offline Junior Member
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    Re: Split infinitive, again

    Here's the thing about languages; they're grouped into families and few of them sit there all alone. English is a Germanic language as you know. It therefore shares many common characteristics with other Germanic languages.

    Take this predeliction for the "to+infinitive" construction. Our "cousin" languages, German and Dutch, share this characteristic:

    Dutch: Het begint te regenen. It's beginning to rain.

    German: Sie hat keine Zeit zu lesen. She has no time to read.

    In certain situations, "te" and "zu" appear before the infinitive just as "to" does in English. They are not part of the infinitive, they are part of an "infinitive construction" just as "to" is in English.

    And, as in English, they are not required with many modals/auxiliary verbs:

    Dutch: Het zal [morgen] regenen. It will rain [tomorrow].

    German: Sie werden lesen. They will read.

    Interestingly, no Dutch or German grammar seems to consider it somehow necessary to stipulate that the infinitive is "te+verb" or "zu+verb." The verb itself is the infinitive.

    And "te" and "zu" in Dutch and German respectively are both considered prepositions.

    So "to" in English is no less a preposition when it acts as a marker for the infinitive verb form than when it acts as a marker for the indirect object.
    Last edited by JJM Ballantyne; 19-Sep-2005 at 23:31.

  2. #12
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Split infinitive, again

    There are alternative arguments. Just as comparing Latin to English has been criticised, comparisons with Germanic languages can be overemphasised. 'To' is sometimes followed by an infinitive and sometimes by a gerund, so it doesn't have a single fixed use, which is the argument put forward by the people who wish to distinguish the preposition from the particle/infinitive marker, though particles are a category I don't have much time for personally. Pragmatically, I call it a preposition, but the evidence does suggest that there is more to it than a simple preposition, IMO.

  3. #13
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    Re: Split infinitive, again

    Thanks for the comments JJM and tdol. I feel that the issue of whether to consider "to" as just a preposition or a word with prepositional and auxiliary roles it's not just a matter of comparison with other Germanic languages or latin laguages (including latin itself). If you just focus on the grammatical role of a preposition, for "to", sometimes, it's just not there. I bring my example again: I want to read. How does the definition of preposition fit into this picture? and if you want to compare it with another Germanic language
    you'll see that here you don't say
    "ich möchte zu lesen"
    but instead you say "ich möchte lesen",
    so lesen here translates into "to read"
    I have just thought of a better example:
    I want to learn to read English.

    Would you say that to and to have the same grammatical role?
    In German you would say
    Ich möchte lernen, Englisch zu lesen
    which agrees with my point of view, since to it's just an infinitive marker and that's why it's not needed in German. On the other hand, to function as both infinitive marker and a preposition for the prepositional phrase to read English which modifies the verb "to learn".

    I am aware that there are different points of view on this subject, I am just stating why I chose this particular one, which in my head makes sense. Of course this doesn't mean that I am right, it just means that I believe in the prepositional and non-prepositional role of "to".

    Cheers
    Ed
    Last edited by edinohio; 21-Sep-2005 at 05:24.

  4. #14
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    Re: Split infinitive, again

    Historically, the forms from which our present day "to-infinitive" stem expressed a dative or locative meaning and functioned adverbially.

    If a verb takes the to-infinitive as its objects, then it may be the "case" that historically "to" was functioning adverbially. (Modals are a different animal, though. They did not take an infinitive marker (e.g., present day: may learn, should learn, might learn), which might account for German möchte (*zu) lesen. Is möchte functioning as a modal or a verb?) For Germanic languages, especially English, verbs that do not take "to" used to end in -an, whereas verbs that take "to" ended in -anne, -enne. The longer the suffix the more likely remnants of it will stick around. As for "want to", well, it's similar to "help (to)". It's a quasi-modals (e.g., supposed to, appeared to, and so on). "to" is part of 'want', not the base verb 'learn', which is why there is a difference between to and to:I want to learn to read English).

    There's no argument. Historically, the forms from which "to" (of the infinitive)derived functioned as additions; they held post-positions: they were added to the stem, which is the reasoning behind the rule, Never split an infinitive. How does one split, say, amare (to love) => ama___re?? One cannot. But Modern Day English is a different story. It's possible, it's done, and accepted, even by Fowler.

    As for Modern Day English, isn't it possible that the infinitive phrase "to read" is a nominal in form? I mean, its history tells us exactly that.

  5. #15
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    Re: Split infinitive, again

    Thank you very much Casiopea, great explanation

  6. #16
    JJM Ballantyne is offline Junior Member
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    Re: Split infinitive, again

    Well, Casiopea stole a march on me in responding to you, edinohio. But I'll post my response regardless.

    Unfortunately, your choice of "möchte" to illustrate your argument ends up reinforcing mine instead. Although "möchte" translates to "want/would like" in English, it is actually a cognate of "might" and (as Casiopea implied) is a modal verb form in German, just as "might" is in English.

    And so, just like "might," "möchte" cannot be followed by "to/zu" before the infinitive verb.

    To recap, although "ich möchte lesen" means "I'd like to read" in English, it is grammatically identical to the structure of "I might read" (even though the meanings differ).

    "Zu" acts as an infinitive marker in German under certain situations in the same way "to" does in English. But, like "to" it is not an integral part of the infinitive.

    This is where the whole notion of "split infinitive" goes wrong.

    It's based on the idea that the infinitive is "to+verb" and that these are somehow inseparable. This dogma comes to us from those English grammarians who believed that since the inflectional marker for the infinitive in Latin was inseparable (the suffixes "-are/-ere/-ire"), English should follow the same rule.

    But this is plainly tosh because the English infinitive is simply the base form* of the verb without any "marking" suffix.

    This might help explain the extensive use for "to" with the infinitive in English: to "mark" the infinitive in certain grammatical situations because the verb itself has no distinct infinitive inflection (German and Dutch share the same characteristic; the infinitive form is also not distinctively inflected).

    As to the grammatical role of "to," that really does depend on your view of the term "preposition." And that's another problem in language studies: the lack of commonality and agreement over terminology - for instance, I'd have some quibbling over Casiopea's "quasi-modal" term. In my books, "to" is a preposition, whether it's marking the infinitive or whether it's marking the indirect object.

    * We could have an interesting discussion on whether the infinitive verb form is even a valid concept in English. But that's another subject again.
    Last edited by JJM Ballantyne; 21-Sep-2005 at 20:26.

  7. #17
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    Re: Split infinitive, again

    Hi JJM
    As I said before Casiopea's explanation helped me understand your position. I am aware now that my example wasn't very appropriate, it just came to my mind when I was writing the post and I don't know much German. I understand your position. However, sometimes I don't like to put words between "to" and the verb regardless of the fact that you're not splitting anything. In some cases, I just don't like how it sounds.
    on the other hand I am still convinced of the prepositional and non-prepositional role of "to", but again, as you said, it depends on your view of the term "preposition". As I see it, sometimes "to" doesn't work like one.
    I appreciate that you and the others took the time to explain things in detail .
    have a great day
    Cheers
    Ed

  8. #18
    JJM Ballantyne is offline Junior Member
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    Re: Split infinitive, again

    "In some cases, I just don't like how it sounds."

    Absolutely, and that's the best and most honest reason of all.

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