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Splitting the infinitive

August 22, 2011

Before a kindly publisher picked up my book, I self-published how not to get hit through Amazon’s self-publishing arm, CreateSpace. For all the benefits this method has (i.e. more money for me) conspicuous in its absence was quality control.  This was
not made any better by my own, appalling lack of attention to detail which resulted in a book where spotting the spelling mistakes and type-o’s became an Olympic
sport. Never was this more evident than when my friend in PR pointed out that I couldn’t call my book ‘How Not to Get Hit’, as I was splitting the infinitive ‘to not’.  Huh?  Say what?  I didn’t even try to understand, I just sighed, took her word for it and redesigned the bloody cover.  So.  How To Not Get Hit was self-published, and a good friend of mine, who is Polish, bought one of the first copies.

“Good book” he told me, “but your grammar is terrible”.

Ah.  Yes, it turns out a Polish man, for whom English is most definitely a second  language, has a greater grasp than I of my own mother Tongue.  This is a bitter pill to swallow, particularly as in about 14 days time I’m going to be teaching English, and in particular English grammar, to a room full of impossibly keen Chinese students, all of whom will probably have a greater understanding of the subject than I do (the embarrassment of this is compounded by the fact that I actually studied English Literature at university.  As a minor, but still…).

I blame the schools.  We never learned (or is that learnt?) grammar at school, and by the time I got to university I was too embarrassed to ask.  So I’ve decided instead to devour ‘Grammar for Dummies’ (which I’ve decided is a very apt title) and descended in to a sea of tenses, verbs, adverbs, participles, infinitives, punctuation, plural verbs, subject verbs and many more scary names that just barely register in my poor, battered brain.  If learning English is this hard, I dread to think what it’s going to be like learning Mandarin…

As we’ll be staying not 80 miles from the world-famous panda sanctuary when we finally arrive in China, I’m put in mind of another famous book on grammar, and the power one tiny punctuation mark can make on a sentence and on the good character of the afore-mentioned oversized racoon in its Oxford English Dictionary definition:

“Panda: Eats shoots and leaves” or, more sinisterly: “Panda: eats, shoots and leaves”…

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2 Comments
  1. Jane permalink

    What a breathtaking lie Nathaniel (yes, full name, you are in trouble now)! I told you your original title ‘How To Not Get Hit’ split the inifinitive of ‘to get’, and it should be ‘How Not to Get Hit’ – advice which you casually waved away (readers of your following posts will spot a pattern developing) – because you ‘thought it sounded better’. Tsk. Great blog tho.

  2. Erm, Mrs Evans, before you launch such a savage attack on my good honour may I draw your attention to the title of the book at the top of this page? And of the one sitting nestled on your bookshelf? I will concede I got the infinitive wrong though 😉

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