Which is correct?

The thief carried the knife carefully so as not to cut himself.

The thief carried the knife carefully not to cut himself.

  • Just a note: "The thief" is third person, and "so as not to cut himself" is a deduction that implies first person knowledge. Unless "the thief" is the narrator, or you are using an omniscient narrator, you may wish to reconcile this discrepancy in perspective. E.g. "The thief carried the knife carefully, as if he was afraid of cutting himself."
    – TLP
    Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 16:46
  • @TLP: I think your omniscient narrator perspective is taking things a bit far. If the writer were going to be that precise, he'd certainly be likely to use the subjunctive! Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 22:19
  • @FumbleFingers Why do you think having an omniscient narrator is taking things too far?
    – TLP
    Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 23:17
  • 1
    @TLP: I just do. I don't deny that there's a faint nod in the direction of omniscient narrator where the writer tells us something of a character's motivations, rather than just his actions. But sticking with your Wikipedia link, one could just as easily say it's third person limited or third person intimate. Anyway, that's all literary criticism, and we're only really concerned with OP's grammar here. Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 23:25
  • Mostly this is simply a stylistic choice, though in the second sentence I'd put a comma between "carefully" and "not". Commented Dec 12, 2012 at 15:31

3 Answers 3


The first one. The second one sounds quite awkward, and in fact one way I can think of to improve it would be to add a comma: "The thief carried the knife carefully, not to cut himself". The slight pause is meant to suggest the missing "so as"!


I think the second alternative "The thief carried the knife carefully not to cut himself" is confusing, possibly incorrect. It would instead be used in this manner, I think:

The thief carried the knife carelessly, not to cut himself, but because he was in a hurry.

(And I replaced carefully with carelessly, otherwise the sentence would make no sense.)

Have a look at this explanation: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=698972&p=3849845#post3849845


I am not an English major but these answers seem wrong to me. I came here to see if "so as not to" was considered appropriate in any case. The comma makes it sound like the writer is trying to say that the killer was not suicidal and wasn't carrying the knife to intentionally cut himself. This is not what the author means. He means to say that the thief was carrying the knife in a protective manner so that it would not accidentally cut him. I would use, "The thief carried the knife carefully so that he would not cut himself."

  • Welcome to ELU. "Answers" should attempt to answer the question, not engage in further discussion. Please take the site tour and visit the help center for guidance on how to use this site. Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 3:41
  • I agree that it's not the best example, but "so as not to" is a (moderately) common and accepted wording. (I'm non an, er, "syntax Nazi", so I won't pass judgment on it's technical correctness.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 4:01
  • This answer is more of a comment. But perhaps you can edit it into an answer to the question as asked. Otherwise, it does risk deletion.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 9:46

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