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Order of “not” with infinitive

It's OK to make mistakes; it's not OK not to learn from them.

What kind of grammar structure is this? Could I use "to not" as a replacement for the bold words? 

  • With the verb "learn" you can use "... to not ...". Indeed, with "to not" the sentence sound less awkard.
    – user19148
    Jul 2, 2012 at 0:50

2 Answers 2


You can certainly say . . . it's not OK to not learn from them. However, bear in mind that there are still people around who mistakenly believe that such a construction is a split infinitive and should be avoided. (They are mistaken because the particle to is not part of the verb so there’s nothing to split.) If you think your readers or listeners may be of this persuasion, you may want to put it differently to deflect the distraction that any adverse comments might prompt. An alternative might be . . . it's not OK to fail to learn from them.

  • 3
    Wha is the «to learn» here if not an infinitive? Jul 2, 2012 at 7:19
  • @Mariano: You can call it an infinitive if you like, but it’s helpful to distinguish between the structural form and the role it plays in a clause. That’s perhaps why the term ‘plain form’ is increasingly used. The authors of 'The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language' avoid ‘infinitive’ altogether and use the term ‘infinitival’ for one of the clause constructions that use the plain form. But let’s say no more here about ‘split infinitives’. They’ve been done to death. Jul 2, 2012 at 8:46

The words "to not learn" in this context constitute something called a "split infinitive" - that is, the words of the infinitive "to learn" have been separated (sorry, @Barrie, I disagree with you on this). Traditionally, people were taught to avoid split infinitives; but sometimes, it's more natural to split an infinitive than not to. That is, split infinitives are no longer considered a grammatical error.

In this particular case though, it's easy to avoid splitting the infinitive - just write "not to learn". There's no reason to write "to not learn", and it's better and cleaner to write "not to learn".

  • I won't argue "better" because that's subjective, but please explain how it is "cleaner".
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 2, 2012 at 10:10
  • 1
    @ColinFine Split infinitives are dirty, grubby beasts that we employ when we don't have too many other options. Every time I split an infinitive, I feel like I need a hot shower afterwards.
    – user16269
    Jul 2, 2012 at 11:19
  • Maybe I'm just an instinctive rulebreaker. Every time I split an infinitive, I need a cold shower afterwards ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
    – Some_Guy
    Jul 25, 2018 at 18:51
  • 1
    Two answers: one that claims it is a split infinitive, and one that claims it isn't. Oh Internet -- who to believe.
    – Victor
    Aug 23, 2018 at 13:49

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