When to boldly split an infinitive

It is difficult to exactly determine when to deftly split an infinitive and when not to do so. A post on ABAJournal.com reports on a lawyer and public relations consultant who advises,

“Blindly following grammar rules can be a mistake for legal writers..That means it is permissible to boldly split your infinitives, according to a Recorder article by AT&T lawyer John di Bene and public relations consultant Elizabeth Lampert.

“Lawyers will write the worst sentences in order to keep infinitives together, ruin the flow of their arguments and lose their readers in the process,” they write. “Remember, you are not writing for a grade, you’re writing to make a point. While it is important to know a rule, it is just as important to know when you should break it.”

They also advise against convoluted language, jargon and a patronizing tone.

This should not, however, be taken by any one that they can simply ignore the rules of grammar as a professional paralegal.

First, there is significant disagreement as to whether splitting infinitives is grammatically incorrect. So splitting an infinitive may not be a rule contravention at all. More important, though, is to take heed of the context: it is OK to bend the rules of grammar in order to avoid ruining the flow of an argument, or confusing or losing a reader. Most rules of grammar are intended to prevent these very same problem. Writing clearly, concisely, and persuasively is the goal. Most rules of grammar support that goal in most instances. They should be followed unless they clearly run counter to that goal.

Writing right remains an essential paralegal skill. Sloppy writing has its consequences some of which are illustrated in the “Consequences of Sloppiness” category. The most likely consequence is that your reader will not understand you. A brief is not likely to persuade a judge if the judge cannot understand what is being said. It certainly will not persuade a judge if the judge decides not to finish reading it.

I join with U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel of Minnesota in strong agreement with the advice to avoid jargon.

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