Within the English language, several phrases sound similar but with ever so slight differences. These subtle differences can cause some confusion and make you wonder which ones are correct.
One example is the debate around whether it is correct to say “to not” or “not to”. Today, we’ll look at what the correct version is, why this is the case, and how important the rules are to follow.
“To not” or “not to”
“To not” and “not to” are both fine for casual conversation. If you want to be super strict about using the English language correctly, “not to” is correct as “to not” would be splitting the infinitive.
How does “to not” split the infinitive
Some scholars believe that it is wrong to “split the infinitive”. But what does this mean?
If we take, for example, the phrase “to run”, this is in the infinitive tense as it could be said about the past “I liked to run as a kid”. The present “I want to run”. Or the future, “I’ll have to run tomorrow”.
If we put the word “not” between “to” and “run”, we are splitting the infinitive.
If I were to say, “I’ll remember to not run”, some people would say that this is not the correct way to speak English.
Why this is a stupid rule
But, I would like to add my two cents and say that this rule is stupid and completely misunderstands the whole point of language.
The purpose behind language is to have a standard way of speaking, enabling others to understand what we have to say. If I were to say, “I’ll remember to not run”, almost everybody will know what I am talking about. Therefore the English language would have served its purpose at communicating ideas.
Not to mention, one of the most famous lines in Sci-fi breaks this rule.
“To boldly go where no man has gone before”.
When the rule might be useful
However, my personal opinion is not to say that you should always ignore this rule. There will be times in life when you need to be more “by the book” about how you apply the rules.
For example, if you’re writing an essay, you will need to make sure everything is written in perfect English. You will also need to write this way if you’re working in an industry such as linguistics.
For most of us, however, splitting the infinitive will not be the end of the world.
7 examples of “to not”
“If the boy sits in the car, for me it shows no respect to not get out for her, and she agreed.”
“Devices to not connect and reconnect; that is the flaw of log based log vetting.”
“I understand that faith is a very personal matter, so I would only encourage you to not forget about faith when you are growing as a person.”
“Twice after taking several driving lessons (this was due in part to my difficulty adjusting to driving a stick shift after having driven an automatic for more than twenty years, but mostly due to not being used to traffic in a big city like Valencia).”
“There is a temptation to not get back on your feet, to stay down and avoid feeling hurt again. This moment is a turning point in your recovery. If the adhesions are not loosened, the ankle may not heal correctly.”
“”Let’s just say the first reason to not kiss him isn’t working out so well.” She laughed and wisely didn’t say anything. “You gotta help me find a second reason,” I said.”
“How To Not Piss Off Your Wife By Jessica Direnzo A guide for husbands to keep themselves out of trouble by keeping their wives happy.”
6 examples of “not to”
“In the abstract, one might reasonably conclude that such a downward cycle ought not to occur.”
“Jesus warns this person, and all within earshot, that our lives are not to be about gathering wealth. Life is so much more than the “abundance of possessions.”
“Qadhafi stated that it was a “blunder” not to invite the country that had most recently abandoned nuclear weapons and that this would make the Libyan example less attractive to states such as North Korea and Iran.”
“Or, as she puts it at the beginning of her book I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, “I never much cared for nature, or rather, thought it okay as long as it stayed outside.””
“Lucy handed him the appointment slip. ‘Dark alleys aren’t promising places to meet anybody.’ As he signed the slip, he said with studied casualness, ‘So I suppose you have to be really careful not to expose yourself.’ Whoops, Freudian slip.”
“That is, had he completed the line not with a characterization (that), but by making clear what To be and not to be mean. Second, it misleads us by implying that what comes before it (To be, or not to be) has the clarity it does not provide.”
So as not to
Another phrase that you might come into contact with is “so as not to”. This is kind of similar to “not to” and “to not”, but the difference is that you are trying to infer that X happened because of reason Y.
If I were to say, “He hid to not be seen”, I’m not sure if this is why he is hiding or just an unintended consequence.
However, if instead, I say, “He hid so as not to be soon”, it’s clear that he is hiding for the purpose of not being seen.
“To not” and “Not to” are both correct in most situations. However, in cases where the proper use of English is vital, it’s best to say “not to” as saying “to not” would be splitting the infinitive.
Alas, these situations will be scarce. So long as people know what you mean, you should be fine.
When you want to infer that something has been done for a specific purpose, you could use the phrase “so as not to”.
This is one example of something in the English language that causes a lot more confusion than it really should. Using either will be okay most of the time as everyone will know what you’re talking about.