Not to or to not?

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24-HR-businessSmI was reading a New York Times article that used the sentence “He has managed not to alienate anyone.” It reminded me of the difficulty people have in using a negative with an infinitive.

To my ears, and to the ears of many other native speakers, it would sound better as: to not alienate… It’s like a negative infinitive, so the negative should go next to the actual verb, not the preposition. I associated the preposition with the preceding verb as if it were a modal. I hear it as “manage to” rather than simply “manage.”

But this is not the case. The verb “manage” does not require a preposition. It simply requires a direct object. Therefore, if the thing being managed is an action, it is a verb in the form of an infinitive.

This is not a case of obeying the old canard not to split an infinitive. That would apply to the use of an adverb. In this case the negative is placed before the verb, and the verb includes the preposition “to.”

I hope I have  managed to explain this clearly. I also hope I have managed not to offend.

About Peter J. Francis

Peter J. Francis is owner and operator of HyperGraphix Publishing Services ( He has over 30 years of professional writing and editing experience. He holds a BA (Honors) degree in English (1987), a B. Ed. degree from SFU (2005) and a certificate in Special Education from SFU (2011). He teaches high school and offers editing services as time is available.