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Birjees S Hussain It is pronounced ‘et-cet-ra’
October 13, 2017
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A couple of weeks ago, when I was in London, there was an ongoing debate amongst Oxford University academics about the problems, or not, of using split infinitives in sentences. Apparently, in grammatical terms, its use in formal writing is a big no no in the English Language.

What is a split infinitive? Well, it happens when you insert an adverb in the middle of a ‘to’ and a verb. Now, as you know, an adverb describes a verb. For example, ‘to move quickly’. Here, ‘move’ is a verb and ‘quickly’ is the adverb. But this sentence, ‘to move quickly’ is okay because a split infinitive has not been used. In this case, a split infinitive would have been used had I written, ‘to quickly move’.

Now here’s a fun fact that illustrates the use of a split infinitive which was accepted and even became famous, almost half a century ago.

We’re all Star Trek fans, I mean fans of the original series, starring William Shatner, and remember James T. Kirk’s famous opening monologue. I won’t quote all of it being mindful of copyright laws. But it began with, ‘Space, the final frontier…’ Do you remember the split infinitive in that monologue? It was said in the final sentence of the monologue, ‘…to boldly go where no man has gone before!’

‘To boldly go’, that is the split infinitive but, interestingly, no one thought there was anything wrong with it back then, nor do they think there’s anything wrong it now. You see, sometimes, a split infinitive is important in that, often, moving it to a different position within the sentence can completely alter that sentence’s meaning. Let’s have a look at an example to demonstrate this point. Here’s where a split infinitive could be understood in two completely different ways.

The first is, ‘You really have to eat’ and the second is, ‘You have to really eat’. Whereas the first sentence means that it is very important that you eat, the second is actually encouraging you to eat a lot, or overeat.

But sometimes not splitting an infinitive sounds like badly written English. For example, ‘I used to secretly admire her.’ Whilst this sentence is correct grammatically, it is really rather awkward to read. Personally, I would split it and rewrite it as ‘I used secretly to admire her’.

Authorities say that it’s okay to use split infinitives in informal writing, like a letter to a friend, but if you are submitting something for a formal appraisal or review, then they say splitting should be avoided. My advice is to seek clarification before you write anything.

Now, here’s another no-no but it’s so often in use now that I fear it may become acceptable English and it involves the word ‘invite’. Invite is actually a verb as in ‘to invite someone to something’. But increasingly, this word is being substituted in formal English for its noun ‘invitation’. For example increasingly people are writing, ‘thank you for the invite’ when it should read, ‘thank you for the invitation’. I encourage you to, please, not let this word turn into a mess the way the use of ‘I’ and ‘me’ has.

One final word whose pronunciation has been turned into a mess is the word, ‘et cetera’. With few exceptions, this word is being mispronounced as ‘excetra’. That is wrong. There is no ‘ex’ in the word nor is there an ‘ecs’ both of which would be pronounced as excetra. The word is et cetera. To clarify, please let me break the sentence up into manageable parts. It is ‘et-cet-ra’. Word analysts say that the reason this word is being pronounced as excetra is because most people find that it comes easier to the tongue.

Funny thing is, I have tried mispronouncing it the way I have heard it being mispronounced and I found it impossible.

So to recap, to split or not to split depends upon the conditions under which it is being used, the word is invitation if you wish to use it as a noun and there is no ex in et cetera.

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