I've read a few articles as well as questions on this site about splitting infinitives. In the Wikipedia article, it claims:

In Old English, infinitives were single words ending in -n or -an (compare modern Dutch and German -n, -en). Gerunds were formed using "to" followed by a verbal noun in the dative case, which ended in -anne or -enne (e.g. tō cumenne = "coming, to come").

I read a bit on the use of infinitives in Old English; apparently, Old English has a to-infinitive that became Modern English infinitive. For example, the following sentence from (I think) Alfred's English translation of "Consolation of Philosophy":

he wilnað good to habbanne ond mid goode to bionne.

"He wills good to have and mid good to be"

Since the infinitives, "to habbanne" and "to bionne" are also two words, did the English speakers back then ever think of putting an adverb between them? For example, would Alfred or Bede have written something along the line of this:

he wilnað good to ā habbanne ond mid goode to sælige bionne.

"He wills good to forever have and mid good to happily be"

It seems English texts from that time don't contain this kind of sentences, but would it have been considered correct?

What about other Germanic languages?

  • Can you choose examples that sound reasonable in modern English? We wouldn't say 'This book is yours to forever have', and arguably be doesn't accept adverbial modification (in 'He is, happily, here', 'happily' is a pragmatic marker [traditional term, sentence adverbial] showing speaker opinion/feelings, and can be fronted 'Happily, he is here'). Dec 15, 2014 at 9:34
  • lel.ed.ac.uk/grammar/splitinf.html
    – user28567
    Dec 15, 2014 at 11:14
  • @snailboat I can't find anything in that link that answers this question. Can you point to the part in question.
    – Jon Hanna
    Dec 15, 2014 at 11:35
  • 1
    As for other Germanic languages, they all happily allow split infinitives, to the extent that they have two-word infinitive constructions at all (which Dutch and German don't really, while the Scandiwegian tongues do). Since the to in OE and ME was much less closely attached to the infinitive itself (sort of like in German/Dutch), I would imagine there'd be no problem separating them there either; but I don't know of any examples off the top of my head. Dec 15, 2014 at 11:46
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    I'm rather late to the party, but I thought I might mention that the Old English infinitive was only halfway a verb. It had been a gerund, at first behaving as a noun, slowly becoming a verb. Take the sentence ic þe brohte boc to rædenne 'i brought you a book to read'. Yes, to rædenne may be translated as a modern infinitive, but it is semantically closer to the Latin dative of purpose: i.e., it literally means for the purpose of reading. With this in mind, there is neither any reason nor any way to 'split' an Old English infinitive, especially since adverbs don't even apply to nouns.
    – Anonym
    Apr 5, 2015 at 21:05

1 Answer 1


A search of the York-Toronto-Helsinki Corpus of Old English Prose for the infinitive marker to followed by anything other than a non-finite verb form yields no relevant examples. This is consistent with the other modern West Germanic languages, where zu (in German) and te (in Dutch) can't be separated from the following non-finite verb. The same is true of the early West Germanic languages (Old High German, Old Saxon).

It's safe to say that Old English didn't have split infinitives. Though absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence, there are so many examples of to + infinitive constructions in these early languages that it seems incredibly unlikely that splitting the two was a grammatical possibility.

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