I often read the phrase "not to" preceding an action, as in "not to run" or "not to swim". It seems awkward. Please explain explain the usage.

  • As a general practice, people try not to split infinitives. ;) Dec 11 '14 at 17:34
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    As a general practice, please feel free to split all the infinitives it makes sense to split. There is absolutely no reason not to. @safetypat Why does not to run seem awkward to use? It is simply a negation of to run. Dec 11 '14 at 17:50
  • @Janus I still find it grates. Even 50+ years after being 'To be or not to be'd'. The to-infinitive pairing is a strange beast, and negation doesn't make it [sound] any less strange. Regarding the OP's question about ordering, see answer below. Dec 11 '14 at 18:25
  • @EdwinAshworth Which version is it you find grating? The split or the unsplit one? Dec 11 '14 at 18:27
  • @@Edwin: Hamlet aside, Google Books thinks there are about 60,500 results for to vote or not to vote, but only 8 for to vote or to not vote, so I guess you'd better just get used to the former. Not that I think avoiding the split infinitive is much of a "cardinal principle". Dec 11 '14 at 18:33

More than one usage of 'to' exists. Restricting analysis to to + infinitive, note the difference between

Not to be charged the full price would be great.


To not be charged the full price, make sure you show your concessionary pass.

The second example here uses the 'in order [not] to' sense. Possibly, positioning has evolved to show the distinction where needed.


I think the negative to-infinitive is normally not to do ( do stands for any verb) as used by Hamlet:

to be or not to be

I don't see anything awkward as to this form.

Occasionally you find an alternative form: to not do. But there is no difference. Of course, there may be sentences where the latter form is justfied stylistically.

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