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Adverbs Splitting Verbs

Compare positioning

Splitting with an axe

Positioning an Adverb


Not incorrect, but it is unclear whether steadily modifies the verb continues or the infinitive to return, or the verb phrase, continues to return.


Air traffic continues tosteadily return to normal across Europe.

before the verb →


after the verb but before the infinitive→


between to¹ and the bare infinitive→


after the entire verb phrase →


Weather should not really cause excessive delays.

before the auxiliary modal →



between the modal and the bare infinitive →


unclear →


Move the adverb directly before or after the word you wish it to modify. Then check to see that the meaning is clear.


                      modifies the word after it
Air traffic steadily continues to return to normal across Europe. )

The adverb modifies the main verb.

                           modifies the word after it
Air traffic continues steadily to return to normal across Europe.

The adverb modifies the main verb.

                                          modifies the word after it
Air traffic continues to steadily return to normal across Europe.

The adverb modifies the infinitive. 

                          modifies the word after it    modifies the word after it
Air traffic continues to return steadily to normal across Europe.

Does steadily modify continue or to return?


                   modifies the word after it
Weather really should not cause excessive delays.

Really modifies should.

                                       modifies the word after it
Weather should not really cause excessive delays.

Really modifies cause.

                                        modifies the word after it  modifies the word after it
Weather should not cause really excessive delays.

Does really modifiy cause or excessive?)



¹ Infinitival form—an  infinitival verb form has a plain (base) form that usually occurs with to, which is analyzed as a subordinator, not part of the infinitival form. See Infinitival Nonfinite Clause (Secondary Verb Forms)

The auxiliary is the main verb which takes a nonfinite complement. He [V. is [working]].

A  modal has a single form for person and number. It is analyzed as primary verb and it takes a secondary verb as its complement.   should [modal]  cause [infinitive form] That is, "cause" is the bare form of the infinitive (a.k.a. base verb form, plain verb form).

Is it wrong to split and infinitive? 

Related page: Adv for Focus (also, only, even, just, really, neither, etc.)





Adverb Positioning




Placement Options for Adverbs


Adverbs that tell us how an activity is done can be positioned before the verb for emphasis.

Adverbs that tell us how or how often can be placed between the auxiliary and main verb.  "split"

Most adverbs are positioned after the verb.  (If the adverb modifies another adverb or adjective, it is placed before it.)


He patiently will work to succeed. 

She will patiently work to succeed.

They will work patiently to succeed. 


*He soon works. (temporal)

*He early works. (temporal)

He already has worked. (aspect)

He yet hasn't worked. (already/yet)

He will soon work.

He will early work.

She has already worked.

She hasn't yet worked.

He will work soon.

He works early.

They have worked already.

She hasn't worked yet.


He always will work to succeed. 

She will always work to succeed.

She will work always to succeed.


*He here will work to succeed.   (no!)              

*She will here work to succeed.  (no!)

They will work here to succeed. 


*He persistently will work to succeed.  (emphasis only)

*She will persistently work to succeed. (emphasis)

They will work persistently to succeed.


He even will work on weekend nights.
He also has been working overtime.

He will even work on weekend nights.
He has also been working overtime.
He has been also working overtime.

He will work on weekend nights even.
He has been doing also overtime work.
He has been working overtime too / as well.

*not used / ~questionable usage or requiring a special context

Manner Adverbs indicating how; Time Prepositions–indicating when; Frequency Adverbsindicating how often; Locational Prepositions–indicating where; Degree Adverbsindicating to what extent; Focusing Adverbs–drawing attention to sentence parts (emphasis).






Splitting a Verb or an Infinitive

Is it wrong?

President Obama taking the inaugural oath


A Real Life Example: "The Inaugural Stumble"

On January 20, 2008, Chief Justice Roberts gave Barack Obama the presidential oath.  Unexpectedly, the Chief Justice changed the word order of the traditional oath. Why? As a strict grammarian, he wanted to avoid splitting the verb phrase with an adverb.

There was a moment of silence.  Barack Obama, who had memorized the oath, tried to resolve the difference mid-sentence.  As a result, he said the word "faithfully" twice.  Because there was concern that the oath had not been administered correctly, it was readministered to Barack Obama the next day to make sure it was done properly.

It appears that Chief Justice Roberts was using a controversial rule: NEVER split a verb (or an infinitive).  

Original: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States."

Chief Justice Roberts: “I do solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president of the United States faithfully." (changed word order)

Barak Obama: “I do solemnly swear that I will execute … faithfully the office of president of the United States faithfully…"

administer (V) – manage, have executive charge of (government affairs, medicine)

stumble (N) – misstep; mistake

Obama retakes oath of office after flub", MSNBC. 22 Jan 2009  

Pop-Question "Inaugural Oath" 





The adverb is placed between the auxiliary verb and the main verb — the auxiliary and main verb are split apart.

The adverb is placed after the auxiliary and main verb  — the auxiliary and main verb are together.

I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office…

I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear that I will execute faithfully the office…



Word Order Options 


 An adverb can be placed before the sentence as a modifier to the whole clause.

Commonly, an adverb is placed between the auxiliary verb and the main verb.  ("split")

 An adverb can be placed after the verb for less emphasis or to avoid a "split verb".

Transposing the subject and auxiliary verb is done in more formal speech such as an oath. (An oath is a formal promise that a person swears to before taking office.)

This is the traditional wording of the presidential oath.However, Chief Justice Roberts changed the word order of the traditional oath, perhaps, to avoid using a split-verb. He is known to be a strict grammarian.

Surprised at the change in the traditional word order, Barack Obama compromised by placing the adverb just after the verb.

Solemnly, do I swear that I …/p>


I do solemnly swear that I …

I do swear solemnly that I…

Faithfully, will I execute the office… 
                   move subject after aux verb


 I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.

I will execute the office of president of the United States faithfully.

See Grammar Notes (expand) to read what other grammarians have to say about "split infinitives".



► Show Grammar Notes? "Don't Split an Infinitive" Dispute ▼ Hide Grammar Notes

Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Splitting Verbs




Splitting Verbs or Infinitives


Any speaker who has not been brainwashed by the split-verb myth can sense that these corrections go against the rhythm and logic of English phrasing. The myth originated centuries ago in a thick-witted analogy to Latin, in which it is impossible to split an infinitive because it consists of a single word, like dicere, “to say.” But in English, infinitives like “to go” and future-tense forms like “will go” are two words, not one, and there is not the slightest reason to interdict adverbs from the position between them. — Steven Pinker "Oaf of Office"

"No rational basis for this prescriptivist rule. "
Prescriptive condemnation of the 'split infinitive' did not rise until the second half of the nineteenth century.  The construction can be found in the literature of the preceding several hundred years, but it became more popular in English writing as the nineteenth century went on, and the adoption of the rule in prescriptive grammar reflected disapproval of this change.  No reason was ever given as to why the construction was supposedly objectionable, however. (737)


First, all the evidence points towards the reality of the feeling that it is "wrong" to split infinitives….On the other hand it is clear that rigid adherence to a policy of non-splitting can sometimes lead to unnaturalness or ambiguity…. Preference.  No absolute taboo should be placed on the use of simple adverbs between the particle to and the verbal part of the infinitive.  'Avoid splitting infinitives whenever possible, but do not suffer undue remorse if a split infinitive is unavoidable for the natural and unambiguous completion of a sentence already begun.'  
(Burchfield 737-8) 

It should be noted that the term 'split infinitive' is a misnomer: nothing is being split.  In Latin there is an infinitive form of the verb, which is traditionally translated into English by means of to + the plain form.  Latin amare, for example, is translated to love. But where amare is a single word, to love is not: it is a sequence of two words.  Thus the fact that no adjunct can be positioned within amare provides no basis for expecting it should be contrary to grammatical principles to position one between to and love.   (581)


Split Infinitives. A. Generally. Although few amrmchair grammarians seem to know it, some split infinitives are regarded as perfectly proper…[Garner cites several grammarians.] B. Splits to Be Avoided. If a split is easily fixed by putting the adverb at the end of the phrase and the meaning remains the same, then avoiding the split is the best course:
Split: "It is not necessary to here enlarge upon those points."
Unsplit: " It is not necessary to enlarge upon those points here." 
Such capriciously split infinites only jar the reader.  (767)

Stage 5: Fully accepted on Garner's Language Change Index. (xxxv)

"Split infinitive structures are quite common in English, especially in an informal style. Some people consider them incorrect or careless, and avoid them if possible by putting the adverb in another position.  (280.7)


Works Cited

  • Fowler's Modern English Usage. Edited by R. W. Burchfield and H. W. Fowler, revised 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2004.
  • Garner's Modern American Usage. by Bryan A. Garner, 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2009.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Pinker, Steven, "Oaf of Office." The New York Times, 21 Jan. 2009,
  • "Split infinitive." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 Dec. 2013.
  • "'To boldly go' gets green light." BBC Online Network. 13 Aug 1999,







Splitting Hairs



Read and note the position of each adverb.

Growing beautiful and healthy hair is not an extremely difficult process. You just need to closely follow a few steps. It does not really require expensive vitamins, shampoos, and conditioners. First, you must carefully cut off the dead ends. Next, stop washing your hair everyday. Hair is often damaged by overwashing. You need to carefully dry your hair with a cool dryer temperature.

If you notice frizzy ends, you should routinely apply conditioners. You should never put rubber bands in your hair. Remember to always rinse out chlorine or salt water. You will want to carefully remove your glasses or your hat, which may pull hair out. If you can patiently follow these steps, you can have more beautiful hair.

splitting hairs (expression) – to argue about very small differences or unimportant details




Select an alternate (another) option for the placement of each adverb.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.