[Taxacom] Split infinitives in scientific writing

Denis Brothers Brothers at ukzn.ac.za
Fri Nov 8 06:57:03 CST 2013

This is much less an issue now than it used to be. To my mind, as long as the meaning is clear it does not matter if it is split or not. In any case, splitting is a way to forcefully emphasise something, and if that is what's needed, then go for it! (Of course, some think that scientific writing should be demure and prissy, but that should not necessarily be a criterion.)


-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Ashley Nicholas
Sent: 08 November 2013 01:28 PM
To: TAXACOM (Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu)
Subject: [Taxacom] Split infinitives in scientific writing

Hi everyone,

Split infinitives are a constant sources of problems to my students, especially those whose mother tongue is not English. And I must confess I also slip up now and again.

I am busy compiling a list of commonly use split infinitives found in scientific/taxonomic writing (that need to be corrected) as a hand-out for my students. I would be most grateful to those of you that have examples to please send these to me (I will acknowledge you in the student hand-out). Maybe do this privately so I don't clog up this Listserver with (what is in comparison to other topics) a minor thread.

A split infinitive I come across frequently in student and postgrad work is "to scientifically test" which should be "to test scientifically". Albeit, Word is now quite good at picking these up. Being a "Star Trek" Fan, the most well know split infinitive is of course "To boldly go where no one has gone before". Which should be "To go boldly where no one has gone before" - but the correct version just doesn't have the same emotional impact.

How seriously do editors and reviewers take mistakes like this?

Regards, in haste.

Ashley Nicholas (PhD)
Associate Professor & Curator Ward Herbarium Academic Leader Biodiversity & Evolutionary Biology Cluster School of Life Science,  Westville Campus University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X54001, Durban, 4000, South Africa
Tel.:+27-31-260 7719 Fax.: +27-31-260 2029 http://lifesciences.ukzn.ac.za/Staff/Biodiversity/biodiv_evo_staff/Durban/nicholasa.aspx
nicholasa at ukzn.ac.za<mailto:nicholasa at ukzn.ac.za>
Empirical scientists do not deal with the truth, we deal with hypotheses. At their best these hypotheses are insightful and predictive, however, nonetheless experience has shown that they are often only a poor approximation of reality and therefore the truth.

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