Grammar Tips: Split Infinitives, Further vs. Farther, Hyphens, and Numbers

The point of proper grammar is to foster clarity and consistency (and certainly not to nitpick…). Though rules evolve over time (accounting for popular annual publications such as the Chicago Manual of Style), we’re presenting some common rules here that have stood the test of recent time, but still confuse even the most talented writers: split infinitives, further vs. farther, hyphens, and numbers.

Split Infinitives
Splitting an infinitive means putting a modifier between “to” and the verb that follows it. So, technically, “To boldly go where no man has gone before” is grammatically incorrect. It should be “To go boldly…” It’s not universally accepted, however, that it’s wrong to split infinitives; there are precedents for both cases going back hundreds of years.

However, because so many people today do consider it incorrect, splitting infinitives can be distracting, so better safe than sorry on this one. In other words, better not “to go boldly” (incorrect) and to split an infinitive haphazardly.

Further vs. Farther
Further and farther are confused quite often. The basic rule is, if you’re referring to taking something to another degree or pursuing something in more detail, you are going further. If you are physically walking or driving a greater distance, you are going farther.

Hyphens (In a Series)
Hyphens, when in a series, are applied in the following manner: “It could be a one- or two-bedroom house.” The hyphen follows the “one” in this example, even though what it refers to (“bedroom”) doesn’t appear until the end of the series. This rule is commonly overlooked.

Numbers
Numbers are another very common area of grammatical errors. Generally, numbers fewer than 10 (such as nine) are spelled out, and numbers including and above 10 are written as digits.

There are some instances where style conventions will override this. For instance, it is uncommon to see “Three-gigabyte hard drive” in well-reputed publications and websites (rather, “3-gigabyte—or 3GB—hard drive”).

In general, it’s a great idea to check the style requirements and industry usage for whatever you’re writing, where numbers are concerned.