Going off this question, where the sole answer put forth a rule of thumb:

Grammatical reason: it is considered best for clarity's sake to place the emphasizer ("even," here) closest to the entity of interest.

The placement of the adverb "even" has piqued my interest with these sentences, some of them from various online dictionaries:

...declined even to consider the idea.

her mother didn't like her even to walk past the barroom because she was worried that there might be drunk people inside

For it is shameful even to mention the things being done by them in secret.

...to pay for things such as groceries, or even to purchase a cup of coffee.

These sentences do not accord with the aforementioned rule. I am wondering:

  1. What stylistic differences do "even to" and "to even" make?
  2. Is this an AmE/BrE thing? Is one way more preferable in any English language tradition?
  3. My hypothesis is there are sentences where either one will do just fine and has the exact same meaning without nuances. But there should also be sentences--even among the handful examples listed above--where one way is more preferable than the other. What are the rules?
  • 5
    This is really just a question about split infinitives.
    – Laurel
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 3:14
  • Yup, changed the tags.
    – user253154
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 3:15
  • Also, I wonder if we are not in a post-no-split-infinitives world, grammatically speaking?
    – user253154
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 3:20
  • so it seems indeed an issue about the differences among English traditions?
    – user253154
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 3:31
  • 4
    Since words like only and even that have focussed elements in the sentence can be placed either immediately before the focus word, or immediately before the beginning of any constituent containing the focus word, there is no difference between declined even to consider the idea and declined to even consider the idea. Here consider is the focus word, and to consider is the beginning of a constituent containing it. Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 3:56

1 Answer 1


Sometimes, obeying rules that are falling into disuse has an intentional semiotic purpose. Lawyers, particularly, benefit from establishing that every word in their writing has been well-chosen, every sentence well-structured. Otherwise, a judge will be tempted to "interpret" what the writing "probably meant to say." (As an estates lawyer I know once put it, "If you want to get a court to read a will loosely, the first thing you do is piss on the will.")

The best inoculation against attack on a legal writing is obsessively, nay ostentatiously, correct grammar and usage. Accordingly, when I was lawyering, the more often I could correctly use "lay" and "lie" or "fewer" and "less" or "effect" and "affect" correctly, the more likely I was to be taken at my word. And, to the point, I never split an infinitive. Ever.

That said, there is a rule on the table: place the emphasizer ("even," here) closest to the entity of interest. But what constitutes and "entity"? "To consider" is a verb in its infinitive form." Thus, "to consider," and not "consider" is the "entity." Thus, the adverb "even" should be placed adjacent to the verb "to consider," not in the middle of it.

Arguably, "even" plus some other word(s) can constitute an entity. Phrases like "not even think about it" and "not even go there" may qualify. In those phrases, however, "not even .. about it" and "not even ... there" do not modify "think" or "go." Rather, the whole phrase is a single entity with no modifiers to place, so the infinitive form of the "verb" is "to not even think about it" or "to not even go there." Admittedly, as a lawyer, I prefer the "fiction" that these phrases are a single verb to which the rule against splitting infinitives applies to the notion that these expressions are "exceptions" to that rule. But maybe that's because I need rules to be inviolate so that I can make a show of not violating them...

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