I came across this sentence in an article, "As she speaks of her family, friends and life, it's difficult to not get that 'feel good' mood."

I'm wondering if the following sentence could also mean the same: "As she speaks of her family, friends and life its difficult not to get that 'feel good' mood."

So my question is, does "not to get" and "to not get" mean the same?

  • Google Ngrams shows which variant is more common. Though 'difficult not to get' is probably the less logical ordering, it's probably thought to trip off the tongue more easily. Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 10:06
  • Luckily, logic has nothing to say about word order of negatives and infinitive complementizers (i.e, to), since complementizers have no meaning and therefore do not affect logic. Grammar, however, says that they can go in either order. Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 15:01

3 Answers 3


The answer to your question is that "it's difficult not to get that 'feel good' mood" and "it's difficult to not get that 'feel good' mood" have the same meaning.

As to which variant is more common, @EdwinAshworth's nGram link shows "difficult not to" is much the more likely variant. This applies also to nGrams comparing "easy not to / easy to not", "hard not to / hard to not", and the bare "not to / to not". This may have something to do with strictures about avoiding the split infinitive, but it is probably more likely to be a choice made for prosodic reasons, as Edwin states.

Note, however, that in certain circumstances, "to not" and "not to" do not have the same meaning.

My goal is not to become famous.

My goal is to not become famous.

In the first, becoming famous is not a goal. In the second not becoming famous is the goal.

  • My goal is to avoid fame is so much better than the clumsy to not. Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 17:27

To begin, I want to express, in summary, that I feel the two sentences have the same meanings because "difficult" has two senses. Differences in "to not" and "not to" can be very subjective. Ordinarily, it takes a lot of imagination.

I spent a lot of time mulling over this question, until someone walked me through a guide on figuring out parts of speech:

  1. Start with the verb (to become famous; to have a goal).
  2. Move to the adverbs (not). That's far enough.

And that's where I came to understand the difference between "to not" and "not to".

The setup

  • I suggest we start with an easier sentence pair: "I told him to not go."; "We told her not to go." This will be very easy to express.
  • It's easy to think of "to" as synonymous with "until" or "until ~ happens".

to not

If you cycle the synonym into "I told him to not go," you get "I told him until he didn't go." In this sense, it's more invasive. The subject continues its action until the indirect object ceases its action. It's a very condescending and controlling action.

a woman forcefully telling a man to not do something and blocks his path

not to

If you cycle the synonym into "We told her not to go," you get "We told her not until she went." The difference is austere! In this case, the indirect object always has the liberty to complete its intended action, but the subject continually "disapproves" until that happens (perhaps with the hope that things will change).

a man and woman cross their arms, feigning disapproval, as a woman in the background freely walks away


Getting back to the "part of speech", we can see that "not" is an adverb. In "to not", the adverb is post-prescriptive. In "not to", the adverb is pre-perscriptive. But "not" is very abstract. It's easier to use an adverb that can be easily visualized, "jovially":

  1. I told him to jovially go.
  2. We told her jovially to go.

It is clear that jovially in case 1. modifies "go" and modifies "told" in case 2.

Back to the sentences in question

We have:

  1. "It's difficult not to get that feel-good mood." -and-
  2. "It's difficult to not get that feel-good mood."

In 1., "difficult" is actually transitive and amended with a zero-object and should be "hard [for me]", means 'hard':

In 2., "difficult" means "negative"; therefore, the sentences have a shared meaning.

  1. "It's difficult for me not to get that feel-good mood."
  2. "It's not to not get that feel-good mood."

The answer has to do with the concept of a split infinitive.

In the case of "to not get," the infinitive of the verb, to get, has been split. This is grammatically incorrect. Instead of inserting not in the middle of an infinitive, one should use the proper verb that conveys the intended meaning.

For example, "it is difficult to miss that feel good feeling."

This also brings in a point of debate in terms of prescriptive grammar vs descriptive grammar. My explanation comes from the prescriptive camp.

  • 1
    This “answer” is wrong. It’s pure rubbish to pretend that one can split an infinitive. The infinitive is get: you cannot split it. The to part is a particle unnecessary in many cases, and certainly a separable one.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 16:52
  • en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split_infinitive
    – user97804
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 19:27
  • Please save such strong language for things that you are sure of. The infinitive is not "get." It is "to get." Why so angry?
    – user97804
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 19:30
  • Agreed! To quote Grammar Bytes: To + Verb = Infinitive. And for a perfect example, the wonderful James Ivory adaptation of Forster’s, A ROOM WITH A VIEW: '"They brought to life the eternal battle where men stand face to face, to slowly gird, to bravely fight, to stoutly dare." Listen, Lucy. Three split infinitives.'
    – GGx
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 14:49

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