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Order of “not” with infinitive

Someone edited my post on another StackExchange.com site to change the former to the latter.

Which is better? I wrote the phrase the first way so that the infinitive wasn't split, but would appreciate other interpretations.

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marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Dec 27 '11 at 13:54

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6 Answers

I don't think the edit was correct nor necessary. An edit should come up if something is wrong, but it this case it only shows a preference in style, and that reason alone should not be enough to justify an edit.

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I've always had a difficulty with the 'don't split infinitives' rule, mostly because of the fact that we no longer speak Latin, so the old rules shouldn't be forced on us (thanks, Victorian linguists!).

My other reason for not worrying about it is because of a logic class I took. In that class, the teacher talked about the difference between NOT doing something and doing something NOT, similar to your question.

The first way "Plan not to retire" almost sounds like he isn't planning anything, but the second way "Plan to not retire" says that he is definitely planning something, specifically to avoid retiring.

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OK, I'll buy the last paragraph. That does make sense. –  John Dec 27 '11 at 5:05
Despite following your reasoning, I disagree that "Plan not to retire" could reasonably be interpreted as "Not plan to retire" (which I believe is what you're saying). The "doing something NOT" form is rare enough that it would always be the secondary interpretation (I think :)) –  Tao Dec 27 '11 at 12:59
@Tao, you're right about "Plan not to retire" not being the same as the implied "Not plan to retire". Thanks for pointing it out. The "doing something NOT" form is often expressed using an opposite form of the word instead of an actual negative. Instead of "doing something good" someone could be "doing something NOT good", mostly expressed as "doing something bad". Make sense? –  WesT Dec 28 '11 at 3:51
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Neither is better in the abstract. There might be contexts where one is preferred over the other, but in general they are precisely the same.

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I personally plan not to retire; boredom feels too much like work to me.

Grammar Girl opines that the rule against splitting infinitives is misguided, but notes:

There's no reason to deliberately split infinitives when you know it's going to upset people. The safer path is always to avoid splitting an infinitive. I would never split an infinitive in a pitch letter to an editor, for example, because there are certainly editors out there who believe the myth. If you want to get the assignment, don't split infinitives. For the same reason, I'd never split an infinitive in a cover letter for a job.

She goes on to conclude:

The bottom line is that you can usually avoid splitting infinitives if you want to, but don't let anyone tell you that it's forbidden.

Looking at it from a programming perspective:

case 0: LifePlan::retirementPlan = !(To(retire)); break; // not to retire

case 1: LifePlan::retirementPlan = To(!retire); break;   // to not retire

You could argue that case 0 and case 1 could produce completely different outcomes, depending on

  • What the To() function does with an input versus its negation, and
  • What it means to negate the return value of the To() function.

I would argue that both would lead to incomes involving not retiring.

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Ngram Graph plan not to, plan to not, planned not to, planned to not

This looks pretty clear to me, although look at that red tail from the late 90s. Try it yourself at:


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How does "what was commoner in Google's sample of the written word" answer "Which is better here?" –  TimLymington Dec 27 '11 at 12:14
First, it's from a Google Books corpus, in other words from edited and published works. Second, I'm a great believer in competent usage rather than arbitrary rules. Third, I'm loth to use the word 'better' when it comes to English. However I would say that 'plan not to retire' sounds more natural to me. –  RandomIdeaEnglish Dec 27 '11 at 17:06
Just to add something from Michael Swan - Practical English Usage (Oxford) - 'Negative infinitives are normally made by putting 'not' before the infinitive.' eg: 'Try not to be late', and not 'Try to not be late'. I don't think it's anything to do with not splitting the infinitive, which I'm happy to do with the best of them; it's simply not idiomatic. –  RandomIdeaEnglish Dec 27 '11 at 19:14
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Both options seem rather awkward to me. Why use either one when you could use 'not plan to'

instead? This appears to be far more common than either of them:

As per RandomIdeaEnglish's answer http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=plan+not+to%2Cplan+to+not%2Cplanned+not+to%2Cplanned+to+not%2Cnot+plan+to%2C+not+planned+to&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=3

I object to both of the original options on the basis that planning generally involves working out a means of doing something rather than not doing something.

If forced to choose one of the two original options, I would probably favour 'planned not to' and avoid splitting the infinitive.

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