He told me not to argue but just agree.

I think the sentence above is grammatically correct, but I'm not sure.

In fact, I have a hard time choosing between the following sentences:

He told me not to argue and just agree.

He told me not to argue but to just agree.

He told me not to argue and to just agree.

I seem completely lost and have been playing the guessing game. Someone help me?

  • 3
    They're all valid - just stylistic variants with no difference in meaning. – FumbleFingers Apr 16 '12 at 16:11
  • I would say "correct" rather than "valid". The sentences differ slightly in tone, in ways that could be influenced by the context. – Eli Rosencruft Apr 16 '12 at 16:25
  • It sounds clearest and least awkward (to me) when the infinitives are clarified: "He told me not to argue [one infinitive] but just to agree [other infinitive]." However, I have no idea if your original sentence is grammatically valid, so no answer from me. – zpletan Apr 16 '12 at 16:37
  • 2
    @Eli Rosencruft: I struggle to imagine different contexts where any one of OP's variants would somehow be more appropriate than another. Come to that, in this context, I struggle to see what difference of meaning you intend between "correct" and "valid". – FumbleFingers Apr 16 '12 at 17:25
  • We usually ask "Is this grammatically correct", etc. See examples in "RELATED" sidebar. I have not seen anyone ask "Is this grammatically valid". – Eli Rosencruft Apr 17 '12 at 2:36

The infinitive to is not dispensed with in the second instance of the sentence.

It is just omitted, to be understood by the reader. This is known as ellipsis.

So the two forms of the sentence are identical, technically and semantically.

Both of them are correct.

[Edit] Pl. read in conjunction with my comments below re: and / but.

  • In response to the conjuntion (but vs and), and makes it sound like he is telling you not to argue and not to agree, while but makes it sound like he is telling you not to argue but just to agree. – zpletan Apr 16 '12 at 17:57
  • @zpletan: And [but?!] what difference does it make? None at all, imho. – FumbleFingers Apr 16 '12 at 18:00
  • The ultimate implication remains the same with either and or but. However, and suggests to go a step further to agree, while but tells you to take a U-turn and agree. :-) – Kris Apr 16 '12 at 18:14
  • @FumbleFingers—sorry, I thought I remembered OP's other sentences, but didn't exactly. My bad. – zpletan Apr 16 '12 at 18:16
  • @Kris: In principle it's possible to draw that distinction between and and but, but [and² but²?!] in OP's context the volte-face is already implicit through the preceding "not argue". Having said that, idiomatically we usually do opt for "but" in such constructions (I say this not to damn, but to offer faint praise! :) – FumbleFingers Apr 16 '12 at 20:11

It might be interesting that only the first of your alternatives would have been considered correct in traditional formal grammar. In the final two ('... but to just agree' and '... and to just agree') you have split the infinitive, i.e., you have separated the word 'to' from the verb stem 'agree'. While that is not generally considered grammatically incorrect these days, one might instead say, 'He told me not to argue, just to agree' (I have also removed the problematic 'and'/'but' decision).

P.S. This was just a comment, but due to popular support I added it as an answer.


The simplest and clearest is "He told me not to argue but to just agree."

The reason that this is simplest is that it is the easiest to parse without ambiguity:

["He told me"] -> ( (("not to") ["argue"]) / (("but to") ["just agree"]) )

That is, "do this not that".

The split infinitive is not considered an error in current usage.

All of the formulations using "and" are open to the ambiguous interpretation

He told me not to argue [with someone about A] and [also] to just agree [with someone else about B]. 
  • Why not "... not to argue -- just agree."? – Kris Apr 16 '12 at 18:27
  • Edited answer to address comments. – Eli Rosencruft Apr 17 '12 at 3:00

It's not hard to figure out, once you think about the two conjunctions individually.

The word and is defined as a conjunction used to conjoin a word with a word, a clause with a clause, or a sentence with a sentence.

The word but is defined as a conjunction used for joining two ideas or statements when the second one is different from the first.

So, the word but is fitting – yet that does not preclude the more generic and from being used.

If you want to accentuate the difference between arguing and agreeing, use but. Otherwise, either one works fine.

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