Copywriting: To Split or Not to Split

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It’s the second day of the work week, and you know what that means: It’s Tip Tuesday!

This Tuesday we’re talking about splitting infinitives and other verbs in marketing, advertising and public relations copywriting.

<watch the video>

Let me start out by saying I absolutely love The Grammar Girl and grammarist.com, two grammar sources that have given me some peace of mind lately.

You see, once upon a time I had a boss who had a hard-and-fast rule about split verbs and split infinitives. Split infinitives are verb phrases, like “to increase” that are split by a modifying word (usually an adverb).

  • We plan to increase your blog traffic over the next 12 months incrementally.
  • We plan to incrementally increase your blog traffic over the next 12 months.

Split verbs are split by a modifying word (again, usually an adverb).

  • We will respond to any issues that might come up quickly.
  • We will respond quickly to any issues that might come up.

It wasn’t just a rule, either; splitting a verb was verboten. With extreme prejudice. I started having nightmares about a grammar monster with huge, sharp, teeth coming to viciously devour me and the sentences I’d written that day.

<See what I did there? “…to viciously devour…”>

Thing is – and The Grammar Girl, grammarist.com and several other sources back me up on this – there is no such rule in English grammar. Turns out the boss was being a grammatical snob. Which – hey – who am I to criticize? That would be the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.

Thing is – and I say this to aspiring advertising, marketing and public relations writers all the time – in our world, we need to write like people speak. We need to build a rapport, a comfort level with the people seeing, reading or hearing our copy. And we’re never going to connect our clients to their audiences – even retired English teachers – by copywriting like pompous professors.

Besides, people split verbs all the time in everyday conversation. Which sounds better? You tell me –

  • I’m going to run to the store for some milk quickly.
  • I’m going to quickly run to the store for some milk.

Get beyond the split verb issue, and the sentence becomes even less academic –

  • I’m gonna quick run to the store for some milk.

But that’s a subject for another Tip Tuesday….

In your advertising, marketing and public relations, your copywriting needs to sound like you speak. Have a conversation with your audience. And, by all means, split away.

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