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© 1999 by Mary Embree

Recently, in looking up what the Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition (published in 1993) had to say about split infinitives (which I believe should often be done) I came across an unusual word: “infelicities.” It was under Section 2.98 Watching for errors and infelicities.

I searched my memory for where I had heard that word before and what it meant in connection with writing. The word“felicity” comes from the Latin felîx which originally meant “fruitful” but progressed semantically to “happy.” So “infelicity” must mean “unhappy.” The word is now also defined as “inaptness or inappropriateness, as of action or expression.”

How “felicity,” a word originally meaning “fruitful,” came to also mean “happy” and “appropriate” is a thought to ponder but as that has nothing to do with editing, I’ll ponder that another day.

There used to be a clear division between styles for writing and styles for speaking. That is no longer the case except in some forms of formal writing such as scientific papers and some academic works. But they could also gain by writing in a more natural style and striving for clarity over pedantry.

Styles have changed so much in the past decade or so that many of the rules we once followed are no longer valid. Here’s an interesting footnote to that Section 2.98:

“The thirteenth edition [1982] of this manual included split infinitives among the examples of ‘errors and infelicities’ but tempered the inclusion by adding, in parentheses, that they are ‘debatable “error.” ’ The item has been dropped from the fourteenth edition because the Press now regards the intelligent and discriminating use of the construction as a legitimate form of expression and nothing writers or editors need feel uneasy about. Indeed, it seems to us that in many cases clarity and naturalness of expression are best served by a judicious splitting of infinitives.”

So you can now split those infinitives, end your sentences in prepositions, and dangle your participles without being in error as long as you are felicitous.

And your writing will probably be easier and more enjoyable to read.

~ Mary Embree, SPAWN's Founder, is a writer, editor, and publishing consultant. Mary can be reached at



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