Those pesky negatives (revisited)

Michael Quinion editor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Wed Aug 11 15:26:10 UTC 2004

Laurence Horn wrote:

> I wonder how we can really tell that previous generations didn't
> say/write "to not V"; I'd think that a proscription of split
> infinitives would automatically extend to these (and to "to never V").

I've not been following this thread with deep attention, so my
apologies if the wrong end of the stick is in my hand, especially as
there are other constructions that look superficially similar. Some
cases that look like it, nearly all representations of uneducated

"Come on, you bozos! The swell folks tell you to not be selfish!
Walt Trowbridge tells you to not be selfish!" (It Can't Happen Here
(1935), Sinclair Lewis)

"She said it was a mean practice and wasn't clean, and I must
try to not do it any more." (Huckleberry Finn (1887), Mark Twain)

"Remember to not get into the cookie jar without scrubbing those
hands of yours thoroughly." (Tokyo to Tijuana: Gabriele Departing
America (date unknown), by Steven Sills)

"Lee just come in and asked me who was I writeing to and I told him
and he says I better be careful to not write nothing against anybody
on the trip just as if I would." (The Real Dope (1919), by Ring

"I wanted you to not go away." (A Girl Of The Limberlost (1909), by
Gene Stratton Porter)

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <editor at>
Web: <>

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