Decide Not to or Decide to Not – Which Is Correct?

Marcus Froland

Do you find yourself unsure whether to use “not to” or “to not” in your sentences? You are not alone! Navigating the world of grammar rules, correct usage, and sentence structure can be tricky, especially when it comes to the split infinitive debate. In both formal writing and modern English, context plays a significant role in determining the right choice.

Whether you’re embroiled in the split infinitive argument or simply seeking clearer language, understanding the intricacies of how “not to” and “to not” work can make all the difference in your writing. We are going to look at these two phrases and figure out what you should do with your sentences!

Understanding Split Infinitives

In order to better grasp the intricacies of the split infinitive and how it relates to writing clarity, we must first uncover its definition, the grammar controversies surrounding it, and the modern developments in grammar guidelines and language evolution.

What Is a Split Infinitive?

A split infinitive occurs when an adverb or another word is inserted between “to” and the base verb, creating a gap in the traditional infinitive form. For example, ‘to boldly go’ represents a split infinitive because “boldly” separates “to” and “go.” While this grammar structure may be considered acceptable, it has generated debate among linguists and writers due to its deviation from the prescribed grammar rules.

Why Split Infinitives Cause Debate

The split infinitive argument stems from traditional grammarians’ belief that the infinitive form of a verb should remain intact, with no additional words between “to” and the verb. Split infinitives, by their nature, violate this rule, leading to disputes around their usage. However, modern grammar guidelines have evolved and often suggest that split infinitives can be acceptable if they positively contribute to a sentence’s structure and clarity.

Traditional grammarians argue that the infinitive form should remain whole, without extra words between “to” and the verb. On the opposite side, modern writing style guides show increased acceptance of split infinitives.

Stylistic Preferences in Modern Writing

Modern writing has witnessed a shift away from following strict traditional rules, instead opting for a more pragmatic approach focusing on readability and intention in language use. As a result, split infinitives are becoming more acceptable, especially when their use enhances the overall message and sound of a sentence.

It is essential to note that not all split infinitives feel natural and improve clarity; some may result in awkward or unclear sentences. In such cases, it is better to avoid splitting the infinitive and try alternative sentence structures.

  1. Learn about both traditional grammar rules and modern grammar guidelines to better understand the evolving language landscape.
  2. Be open to using split infinitives when it benefits the message and flow of the sentence.
  3. Ensure clarity is the top priority when constructing sentences, irrespective of stylistic preferences.

Gaining a deeper understanding of split infinitives, the surrounding debates, and the shift in modern writing preferences is crucial for writers who aim to create clear, concise, and effective sentences. Adapting to the evolving landscape of language and assessing the appropriate usage of split infinitives can significantly impact the readability of a piece of writing.

The Case for “To Not”

There’s a reason many writers and speakers often use “to not” in their sentences. While “to not” can split the infinitive, it can make your language more natural-sounding and improve the overall sentence flow. Indeed, “to not” can be used with minimal trouble ahead of verbs in a wide range of contexts, as long as the message in your sentence remains clear and easy to understand.

As with many grammatical choices, deciding whether to use “to not” or “not to” often depends on readability, the writer’s communicative intent, and the desired tone. If you find that the sentence flows better and sounds more natural with “to not,” you might prefer to use it. However, be mindful of potential awkwardness or confusion arising from the use of this verb negation.

It’s essential to check your writing for readability to ensure that your use of “to not” does not cause any misunderstandings or unexpected interpretations.

Consider these two examples:

  1. To not eat before bedtime is known to improve sleep quality and digestion.
  2. To not see the movie when it first came out means missing out on the excitement and initial reactions.

As you can see, both sentences would have worked just as well – if not better – with “not to” instead of “to not.” However, using “to not” makes them sound more conversational and less formal, which might be the intention for some writers and contexts.

Ultimately, the choice to use “to not” should hinge upon the specific goals of your communication. If you want to prioritize natural language and sentence flow, “to not” can be an acceptable choice ahead of verbs in numerous instances. Just be mindful to ensure the context and message remain clear and that the language stays free of awkwardness.

Formality and Clarity: Opting for “Not To”

In cases where grammar preferences lean towards traditional and more formal writing, the use of “not to” is often highly recommended. By opting for “not to,” you preserve the original infinitive form of the verb, thereby adhering to the long-standing linguistic tradition that seeks to avoid split infinitives. This approach ensures that your writing is characterized by a sense of grammatical purity, ultimately fostering clear communication.

Consider the example “not to be rude,” which maintains the integrity of the infinitive “to be.” By using “not to” in this context, the sentence flows more smoothly and the meaning becomes more apparent. As a result, the reader’s comprehension is improved, which is the primary objective of any writer – especially when it comes to formal writing.

‘Not to be rude, but I must decline your invitation.’

This preference for “not to” is most notable in formal writing contexts, such as academic essays, official reports, and business correspondence, where the aim is to communicate your ideas in a polished and professional manner. By using grammar conventions like “not to,” you ensure that your writing is free from ambiguities and achieve a higher level of clarity.

Furthermore, the choice of “not to” over “to not” can often help you avoid awkward sentence constructions which might impede your message’s reception. To determine whether the use of “not to” improves your sentence’s flow and meaning, take the time to read it aloud, noting any areas that hinder your understanding or feel unnatural. This will enable you to generate a version of the sentence that strikes a balance between preserving the infinitive form and creating a natural-sounding piece of prose.

  1. Read the sentence with “not to”
  2. Examine the sentence’s flow and meaning
  3. Revise as needed to ensure comprehension and readability

The use of “not to” is often preferred in formal writing contexts, but it can also be employed throughout your work to safeguard the integrity of the infinitive form. By considering the importance of grammar preferences and the need for clear communication, you can unearth the best approach for each specific sentence, ensuring that your ideas are expertly conveyed and appreciated by your readers.

Is It “To Not Be” or “Not To Be”?

As language evolves and adapts over time, classic literature and historical grammar continue to hold sway over our understanding and adherence to grammatical norms. This impact is especially evident in decision-making processes regarding the usage of split infinitives.

The Influence of Literary Usage on Grammar Rules

To be, or not to be: that is the question.

In Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet, the protagonist’s introspective soliloquy, “To be, or not to be,” illustrates the Bard’s preference for maintaining the integrity of the infinitive form by not splitting it with an intervening adverb. This influential literary passage has undoubtedly shaped the historical grammar of English and the way subsequent generations approach the usage of split infinitives.

How Context Affects Split Infinitive Decisions

While Shakespeare’s influence looms large in discussions of infinitive use, the choice between “to not be” or “not to be” is ultimately subjective and hinges upon the specific context and meaning intended by the writer. In modern English, both forms can be employed depending on the nuances of the sentence and the author’s desire for effective communication. It’s imperative to prioritize the rhythm and sound of the sentence rather than adhering strictly to archaic grammar rules.

For example, consider the subtle distinctions between these two sentences:

  1. I decided to not be swayed by their arguments.
  2. I decided not to be swayed by their arguments.

Though both options are contextually grammatical and convey the same basic meaning, the choice between the two variations is ultimately a personal preference based on the desired sentence flow and clarity of expression.

When to Rewrite Sentences Instead of Using “Not To” or “To Not”

Sometimes, the best course of action is to avoid both “not to” and “to not” entirely and rephrase the sentence instead. By focusing on sentence restructuring and alternative phrasing, you can improve readability and enhance the clarity of your message. In cases where neither “not to” nor “to not” creates a smoothly flowing sentence, a rewrite that eliminates the split infinitive might be an optimal choice.

For example, consider the phrase “not to win.” If the intended meaning is actually “to lose,” then it would be much more effective to use “to lose” and avoid any ambiguity. You can enhance clarity by eliminating unnecessary double negatives, simplifying your sentence structure, and focusing on the intended directive. By taking this approach, you can ensure that your message comes across clearly and directly, something that is especially crucial in avoiding split infinitives and adhering to modern English language guidelines.

In conclusion, whether you choose to use “not to” or “to not” depends on the specific context and intent of your message. However, when neither option seems suitable, it’s a good idea to explore alternative phrasing and sentence restructuring to ensure clarity and readability. By prioritizing effective communication over grammatical rigidity, you will be better equipped to convey your ideas in a way that resonates with your readers and respects the flexible nature of the English language.