Is there a rule that governs when you change around the placement of "not" in a sentence relative to the verb? For example:

I'm NOT going to Spain to have fun.


I'm going, NOT to have fun, but to look for work.


I'm going to NOT have fun and study instead.

  • After the I'm going in the second sentence, I believe you need a comma. – Tim Aug 27 '14 at 9:44
  • I think this question should migrate to ELL, maybe? – Neeku Aug 27 '14 at 10:45

In standard Modern English, negation is achieved by adding not after an auxiliary verb. If no such verb is present then the dummy auxiliary do (does, did) is introduced. For example:

I have gone → I have not gone (have is the auxiliary)
He goes → He does not go (no auxiliary in the original sentence)

Different rules apply in subjunctive, imperative and non-finite clauses.

So, here in your question, only the first sentence is correct, the second can be fine, depending on what you mean (but without the comma), and the third is incorrect.

I'm NOT going to Spain to have fun.

The correct form for the second sentence:

I'm going not to have fun, but to look for a job.

or with a slightly different meaning:

I'm not going to have fun, but to look for a job.

And the correct form for the third sentence:

I'm not going to have fun, but study instead.


I'm going not to have fun, but study instead.

You can keep this in your mind that not must always appear after the auxiliary and before the main verb.

See the Wikipedia article about negation in English for more information.

  • Thanks for your input. How would you use a split infinitive in the 3rd sentence? I think split infinitives is really what my student is trying to understand. – Bec Aug 27 '14 at 10:53
  • There is nothing wrong with his second sentence. Upon what basis do you judge it as ungrammatical? – user0721090601 Aug 27 '14 at 11:09
  • 2
    All three of these sentences are perfectly grammatical. Some are more marked than other, which means that we would use them in special circumstances, or to achieve a specific effect. However, it's definitely wrong to say that they're ungrammatical!!! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Aug 27 '14 at 11:14
  • @guifa Thanks for your comment. I had misread the second sentence. Updating the answer. (: – Neeku Aug 27 '14 at 11:15
  • "You could always go out and have some fun ..." "No, I'm going to not have fun and study instead." – Araucaria - Not here any more. Aug 27 '14 at 15:34

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