A question on split-infinitive

I encountered the passage below from a website presented just below.


But to Catholics in the pews, his pontificate is a source of alienation. It is a pontificate, at times, beyond parody: Francis is the first pope to approve of adultery, flirt with proposals to bless gay marriages and cohabitation, tell atheists not to convert, tell Catholics to not breed "like rabbits," praise the Koran, support a secularized Europe, and celebrate Martin Luther.

In the italic part "not to convert" and "to not breed" has the same grammatical role with disparate forms. One with adverb modifier NOT before to infinitive, the other with Not just before infinitive.

Is the difference between two forms just one of styles without any difference of role or is there any profound difference that I don't know about?

(I posed this question because students in Asian areas learning English as a second language are having English grammar tests asking to recognize the error of TO NOT infinitive and to correct it to NOT TO infinitive. But as the sentence in question manifests the sort of test is out of date and inappropriate. Am I right?)

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    Most grammarians will tell you that the prohibition of split infinitives is outdated, that it was only introduced as an eighteenth-century affectation etc. However, my own view is that this idea, and many others like it have their origin in a desire to make English a simpler language to speak. To me a split infinitive is inelegant, and I always take care "to not split my infinitives". – WS2 Oct 5 '17 at 8:10
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    '... tell atheists not to convert' is nowadays so idiomatic that even in formal writing it would sound IMO more than faintly ridiculous to use 'to not convert'. However, 'not to breed like rabbits' has a different emphasis from 'to not breed "like rabbits" ' and the stilted version has to be used unless one rephrases. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 5 '17 at 9:22

The primary problem with the sentence is not that there is a so-called split infinitive, with "not" being positioned between "to" and "breed." The primary problem is that the combination of "not to convert" with "to not breed" violates the rule of parallelism. To avoid the lack of parallel structure, the sentence should read as


Francis is the first pope to ... tell atheists not to convert, tell Catholics not to breed "like rabbits"


Francis is the first pope to ... tell atheists to not convert, tell Catholics to not breed "like rabbits"

I suspect many (most?) native users of English probably would not notice, and certainly not object to, splitting an infinitive with "not." But most native users would notice the lack of parallel structure resulting from combining "to not" with "not to" in a list.

As for whether it is acceptable to split infinitives, while there are some prescriptivists who will insist to their graves that the split infinitive is an abomination, there are strong arguments that the split infinitive is a widely accepted feature of standard English.

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    I prefer the original version if truth be known. The original strikes a good balance between harmony and diversity. The suggested solution sounds rigid, dictatorial and automated to my ears, but that could also be due to the boldface. – Mari-Lou A Oct 6 '17 at 5:54
  • Thanks for the link on split-infinitive. That was profound. – morti Oct 6 '17 at 7:23

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