Presidentially Speaking

Awkward adverbs became a hot topic on Inauguration Day when Chief Justice Roberts and President Obama stumbled over the presidential oath. Not that we're pointing fingers at either party (The Awkward Adverb is nonpartisan), but according to the Constitution, what the president should have said was:

I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States...

What he was told to say was:

I do solemnly swear that I will execute the office of President of the United States faithfully...

From a grammatical standpoint, does it matter where the adverb falls in the sentence? Both versions are acceptable, but good style calls for placing an adverb close to the verb it modifies. Therefore, the Founding Fathers did well by sticking "faithfully" next to "execute" instead of far away at the end of the phrase.

Some sticklers, however, believe that verbs should never be split. They disapprove of how "faithfully" elbows its way between "will" and "execute," just as they shudder when Captain Kirk proclaims his intention to boldly go where no man has gone before. (He should prefer to go boldly into deep space.) Even though there’s no compelling reason to always insist on united verbs, schoolmarms used to slap wrists for perceived transgressions like split infinitives. At least one linguist believes that internalized habits stemming from this misguided rule were what caused the flub at the swearing-in ceremony.