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When writing my bachelor's thesis together with my group, we could not figure out where the not in the following sentence is most properly placed.

"The site-to-site variability was found to be not significantly different from zero..."

We found that the not could be placed at more or less all of the following places, producing more or less pleasant sounding sentences:

  1. ...was not found to be significantly different...
  2. ...was found not to be significantly different...
  3. ...was found to not be significantly different...
  4. ...was found to be not significantly different...
  5. ...was found to be significantly not different...

Is there a correct placement or is it up to the writer? Does the different placements convey different meanings?

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  • Do you want to emphasize the findings or the significance? Where you expecting to find something, but you didn't, or were the finding just very close to zero. Jun 1, 2017 at 16:28

1 Answer 1

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Do you want to emphasize the findings or the significance?

Scenario 1: If you were expecting to find something, but you didn't...

1: was not found to be significantly different

Scenario 2: If you were emphasizing the finding as being very close to zero...

2a: was found not to be significantly different.

2b: was found to not be significantly different

The 2a is probably the most grammatically correct for scenario 2. I believe 2b "splits the infinitive".

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  • That is correct, 2a is my recommendation. Splitting the infinitive is a grammatical rule. It's not one I understand well. I wasn't sure if 2a and 2b had any difference, and that was what I found when googling to not be vs not to be. Sorry I had a typo I just corrected. I don't think "to be not" sounds correct. You may want to say "found to be insignificantly" Jun 1, 2017 at 16:52
  • The emphasis should be on that the variability is very close to zero with the given statistical significance. In that case you're recommending "was found not to be significantly different". Is that correctly understood? Why is splitting the infinitive not preferable. (I guess that's the topic of some questions here.) Jun 1, 2017 at 16:52
  • Okay, so there are recommendations about the placement, but no strict grammatical rules about it? Thanks for the advice. It sounds sound. @alampert22 Jun 1, 2017 at 17:00

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