lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

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Location: Kolkata, India

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Infinite disinterest

"Isn't that the great taboo?" K asked.

"Not nowadays," I said. It is true. Splitting infinitives isn't regarded as a major grammatical sin these days.

"It is more a sin to write a tortured sentence to avoid splitting an infinitive," I said. "I'd rather split an infinitive if it conveys my meaning concisely than write an awkward sentence, so there."

"Of course, there's no such worry with bare infinitives," I added.

"You made that up." He accused. "I don’t have to, English is odd enough without my having to make up rules and definitions." I sniffed.

Bare infinitives, dear Reader, are verbs that consist of the base form without 'to', such as 'He heard me speak', 'I saw him wince', 'Need I say more', and 'I had better stop'.

But it is on rare occasion our conversation touches on these niceties, so I sallied further.

"The basic uninflected form of the verb is called the base, and it's usually the infinitive form, as in 'to go' or 'to take'. Of course, there is the imperative form too, such as 'Go away' or 'Gimme', " I said, revelling in memories of grammar learnt in school.

"Stop that," he murmured. I affected sudden deafness and went on with the recital of remembered rules and lessons. "It is also the form that the verb in the present indicative tense takes, such as 'I always go there on Wednesdays' or 'I exercise regularly'. But this doesn't apply to the third person singular." I said.

"So she says." I detected a touch of weary resignation. I ignored it. This is important stuff, after all.

"Base also refers to the basic element in word formation, of course." I went on, warming up to the subject. "In this sense it is known as the root or the stem. Enthuse is the stem for the word enthusiastic, for example."

"Despair is the stem for desperation, I suppose?"

"Absolutely. Infect is the stem for infectious, and so on."

"Bore is the stem for boring, then?"

I ignored that too. "A split infinitive is one that has had another word, usually an adverb, placed between itself and 'to', such as 'to rudely interrupt', for example," I said severely.

This used to be considered a huge grammatical gaffe, but it is not so anymore. As I said, it makes for clumsy sentences sometimes, and slavish adherence always to rules is not always a good thing.

"Lali, can I request you to kindly change the topic?" He said. "Umm, you…" I began, spluttering in outrage. "I thought that'd get your attention. I wanted to clearly send a signal." He said.

I rolled my eyes and gave up.

Cheers!

6 Comments:

Anonymous Non Sequitur Man said...

Grammar Nazi? Larking Lalita? Which persona can one ascribe this post 'to'? A severe split personality disorder, it is clear.

7:06 am  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

Ha. K had the last word for once. What a boring thing to talk about, Lali.

1:19 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

NSM- *wince*
Call me Eve and Sibyl, will you? Just you wait.

Rajesh- It is not boring at all, Child. It's a fascinating subject. But wasted on him, of course.

5:04 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

Bare infinitives, dear Reader, are verbs that consist of the base form without 'to', such as 'He heard me speak', 'I saw him wince', 'Need I say more', and 'I had better stop'.


Lali, something tells me I have not mentioned this before, so I shall now: there's this subtle strain of mischief in your humour that makes it positively irrestible.

There. Did you know that?

7:13 pm  
Blogger Priya said...

I completely agree with Rimi. Split infinitives eh? Priya's wiling, love :P
@Rimi: Spellings, doll. Irresistible, surely :) Between Lali and me, we really give youa hard grammatical time, don't we :P Muahahaa

4:11 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Rimi- No, darling. You haven't mentioned this before.

What to do, he doesn't let me hold forth on these fascinating things. So I do it on the blog. ;)

Priya- Couldn't bring yourself to split an infinitive, eh? I can't either, for all that I don't mind it in theory. :-)

4:55 pm  

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