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From a descriptive standpoint (and the problem that English has at least two words in an infinitive), I understand why the split infinitive is becoming more acceptable, but is there any other excuse for this phrasing used by phone CSRs?

  • "I'd be happy to direct you to the bank to further assist you."

  • "I'd like to transfer you to the sales department to further assist
    you."

  • "I have Diana on the line, and she'll be happy to further assist you."

Is it simply the case that Star Trek syntax triumphs again, or does it somehow sound funny to say "to assist you further?" (I would not consider "further to assist you" an acceptable solution.)

To clarify, is there a fixed syntagm of a VP "to further assist" versus an issue of split infinitive? Is "further" bound in the domain of "to assist?"

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This sounds like peeving, and in any case has been covered elsewhere. Here, for example english.stackexchange.com/questions/2117/… Voting to close. –  Barrie England Jan 30 '13 at 15:02
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@BarrieEngland I disagree. In this particular example, the phrase "to further assist you" sounds like it has a different meaning than "to assist you further". In the question you link to, "to more than make up" just sounds wrong. –  Mr Lister Jan 30 '13 at 15:07
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I also vote nitpicking... but isn't that what prescriptive grammar is all about? "to assist you further" and "to further assist you" mean the exact same thing. –  mattacular Jan 30 '13 at 15:08
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@BarrieEngland they may honestly believe that there used to be a real rule against splitting infinitives and the "more acceptable" and "triumphs again" used honestly rather than as peeving. –  Jon Hanna Jan 30 '13 at 16:46
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@Colin, I agree; I do not like the scripted "assist" instead of "help." "How may I assist you today?" will never sound as natural to me as "How can I help?" –  livresque Jan 31 '13 at 16:16

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

English does not always have at least two words in an infinitive. This is a common misconception, possibly resulting from the facts that

  1. the to-infinitive form is met with far more commonly than the bare infinitive in common constructions

  2. in the past, dictionaries would pick up on this, and give an entry for 'to swim' rather than 'swim' etc. This practice is happily falling off.

Examples:

I want to wash my hair tomorrow.

I didn't dare wash my hair in that new shampoo. (to optional here)

I helped wash the dishes. (to optional here)

So "I'd be happy to further assist you." doesn't split an infinitive but a to-infinitive.

That said, what about the practice of 'splitting to-infinitives'?

According to G. Pullum, this 'rule' is a myth:

Myth: You must never split an infinitive.

Pullum responds: Hemingway didn't write the phrase "to really live" by mistake; it is perfect English. "To" introduces infinitival verb phrases, and "really live" is an infinitival verb phrase (containing a preverbal adverb). Nothing is split in this form of words.

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@BarrieEngland this raises another issue: governance of the adverb under VP and Vprime. Can an infinitive "contain" an adverb? Is it bound in the domain? –  livresque Jan 30 '13 at 17:27

I actually think your first example sounds odd: "I'd be happy to further assist you."

I often split my infinitives (native speaker), but I'd be more inclined to say, "I'd be happy to assist you further" here.

To your question of why, I don't have a good answer. I often find not splitting the infinitive sounds too contrived and formal. It's similar to the distinction between who and whom for me. I know the difference and use them correctly in academic writing, but I avoid using whom while speaking because it sounds excessively formal (to the American ear, anyway-- that was not my experience in the UK). I think most people have a poor grasp of grammar and so the mistakes are commonplace, thus becoming more accepted (and, in many cases, preferred).

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