‘To Boldly Go’: Most Famous Split Infinitive

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. 

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What were teachers of English grammar to do in the face of such a pervasive example of a common howler – the split infinitive.

It would be correct to say ‘boldly to go where no man has gone before’ or ‘to go boldly where no man has gone before’.

But this is where the people have beaten the grammarians, at least in daily speech. I think this is partly an example of popular revolt against the rules of grammar. Winston Churchill had his proof corrected to move the prepositions from the end of the sentence (which is grammatically incorrect) to the middle. He retorted ‘This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put’. As he was who he was, and the publishers did not want to lose their lucrative author, he won the day.

In the case of ‘to boldly go’, I think it’s simply a case of euphony: it just sounds better.


About layanglicana

Author of books on Calcutta, Delhi and Dar es Salaam, I am now blogging as a lay person about the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. I am also blogging about the effects of World War One on the village of St Mary Bourne, Hampshire.
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2 Responses to ‘To Boldly Go’: Most Famous Split Infinitive

  1. I used to make a big thing about this, until my elder daughter accused me of being (a) a grammar nazi, and (b) completely out of touch. She is a professional translator! The ‘rules of grammar’ in this case are apparently those of classical Latin (i.e. what I and many previous generations were taught in school).
    I was then later handed a copy of “Is That a Fish in Your Ear?” by David Bellos, and told to remember what trouble I had when I was teaching biblical Greek & Hebrew in English to students representing 12 different local languages (for some of whom English was their 3rd language) when in Uganda.
    Retreat with tail between the legs!

  2. minidvr says:

    When I was taking English tuition to improve my writing, I was accused of going boldly where no man had been before, at least since Latin ceased to be the official language of the Church.

    I reflected on this a little and pointed out that the accusation wan’t evidence based, just an individual opinion. And, boldly went on.

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