Negative Infinitive and Negative Gerunds - Detailed Explanation With ExamplesJul 11, 2021
We use the negative infinitive and negative gerund when we want to give a verb an opposite meaning. It can be difficult to figure out where to add ‘not’ and how to structure a sentence with a negative infinitive and a negative gerund.
This blog will teach you the basics and the grammar rules. The next time you speak English with a native English-speaking partner, remember to practice everything that you learn in this blog. You will only develop your English language skills when you practice the new rules that you learn.
You probably know the famous Shakespeare quote ‘to be or not to be’ and it’s a great quote to remember to help you form negative infinitives.
“I want to be a good teacher.”
“I want not to be a bad teacher.”
Negative Infinitive Form
To form the negative infinitive, we need to add ‘not’ BEFORE the infinitive.
“Try not to be late.”
“I want you not to finish all of the cake at once.”
“It was silly not to lock your doors at night.”
How Do You Negate an Infinitive?
There are two options we can choose between to negate an infinitive. One is more accepted and formal than the other, but both are fairly common.
We can use the correct grammatical structure: sub + not + to + infinitive
Or we can use the second-most common structure: sub + to + not + infinitive
“My goal is not to make errors when speaking English.”
“My goal is to not make errors when speaking English.”
You can use either structure to speak like a native English speaker, but the first example is more correct than the second example.
So what’s the difference?
The second sentence contains a split infinitive. There are some grammarians who will insist that a split infinitive is incorrect in English and must be avoided at all costs.
What Is A Split Infinitive
A split infinitive occurs whenever a word appears between ‘to’ and the verb. It happens when we put ‘not’ or an adverb in the middle of ‘to’ and ‘not.’
“I want to not go out tonight.”
“They went to quickly help him.”
An old English grammar rule says this is incorrect - but that simply isn’t true anymore. But, to be safe, it’s best to only use the split infinitive in informal situations. During formal interactions and writing, try to find another place for ‘not’ or the adverb. It’s best not to make this error when speaking or writing formally.
“I want not to go out tonight.”
“They went to help him quickly.”
Negative Infinitive Examples
“I’m happy not to go out tonight.”
“I’d like not to work so much.”
“She always tries not to go to sleep too late.”
“It’s important for him not to waste too much time on his phone.”
“They find it easy not to get distracted while working.”
“I’m able not to let my emotions get the better of me.”
Negative Infinitive in English
The negative infinitive in English might seem too formal to use and you wouldn’t be alone if you’re wondering why we don’t simply form the present simple tense or the past simple tense in the negative - but there is a difference in the meaning.
I Decided Not To Or I Didn’t Decide To
The meaning is essentially the same in the sentences:
“I want not to be a bad English teacher.”
“I don’t want to be a bad English teacher.”
However, there are times when we need to use the negative infinitive instead of the present and past simple tenses in their negative forms.
“I decided not to go to America.”
“I didn’t decide to go to America.”
The negative infinitive highlights the fact that it was your decision not to go to America. The second sentence is more ambiguous. It could mean “I didn’t decide to go to America- someone else decided it and we’re going next weekend.”
When We Use Negative Infinitive
We use the negative infinitive when we want to give the verb an opposite meaning.
“She told me not to be late.”
“They asked me not to talk so much.”
We could also say:
“She told me to be early.”
“They asked me to be quiet.”
However, the meaning changes slightly. In the first example, she didn’t tell me to be particularly early - she only told me not to be late. And in the second example, they didn’t ask me to be quiet - they only asked me not to talk so much.
The negative infinitive is used after certain verbs (manage, agree, claim), after adjectives (I’m glad to hear you’re happy) and to give a reason (They went away to unwind and relax.)
Negative Infinitive Phrase
Infinitive phrases are complete phrases that contain an infinitive. It includes the infinitive and objects, adverbs, or other modifiers.
I want not to go to the shops.
They try not to eat junk food every day.
‘Not to go to the shops’ and ‘not to eat junk food every day’ are the full negative infinitive phrases.
A negative gerund plays the same role as a negative infinitive. We use the negative gerund to give a gerund the opposite meaning.
Negative Gerund Or Negative Infinitive
We use an infinitive after certain verbs (want, try, agree), after adjectives (happy to work, important to try your best) and to give a reason for an action (I’m studying English to expand my opportunities).
We use a gerund after certain verbs (avoid, deny, admit), after prepositions* (I’m trying to improve my health by running three times a week), after phrasal verbs, and as a noun in the subject or object position of a sentence (smoking is bad for your health).
*It's important to remember that ‘to’ is either part of the infinitive OR it’s a preposition.
“I’m looking forward to having the weekend off.”
In the phrasal verb ‘looking forward to,’ ‘to’ is a preposition. It is NOT part of the infinitive.
Some verbs like start, like, love, hate and prefer can take both the infinitive and the gerund.
These rules apply to both positive and negative gerunds and infinitives.
Negative Gerund Form
The negative gerund can be used when we want to transform the meaning of the gerund into the negative meaning.
“I like not waking up early on the weekends.”
“He stays healthy by not eating junk food.”
How Do You Write a Negative Gerund?
We can form the negative infinitive by adding ‘ not’ BEFORE the gerund.
Not smoking is good for your health.
He admitted not working hard was the reason he failed the test.
Negative Gerund Examples
“Not sleeping late is good for productivity.”
“They preferred not playing video games.”
“They passed every exam by not skipping lessons.”
“You are looking forward to not working on the weekend.”
“We despise not having the freedom to do what we like.”
“She doesn’t mind not going out tonight.”
Negative Gerund in English
There is only one way to form the negative gerund in English. Unlike the infinitive which is made up of two words, the gerund is only one word. This means that there is no way to split the verb and there is no alternative way to form the negative gerund in English.
When We Use Negative Gerund
We use the negative gerund to give the verb a negative meaning. We can list everything that is good for our health using a gerund:
Eating fruit and vegetables is good for our health.
Running is good for our health.
Getting enough sleep is good for our health.
But we might also want to mention a negative gerund to highlight the actions that we shouldn’t do to improve our health:
Not smoking is good for our health.
Not sleeping all day is good for our health.
Not eating junk food is good for our health.
Remember: we use a gerund after certain verbs (keep, consider, continue), after prepositions*, after phrasal verbs, and as the subject or object of a sentence.
Negative Gerund Grammar
Grammatically, a negative gerund is formed by adding ‘not’ before the gerund. ‘Not’ always goes before the gerund, even if the gerund has its own object.
Not drinking alcohol is good for your liver.
In this sentence, the gerund has a direct object ‘alcohol.’
We CANNOT put ‘not’ between the gerund and the object of the gerund.
We CANNOT say:
Drinking not alcohol is good for your liver.
The ONLY place ‘not’ can go with a negative gerund is BEFORE the gerund.
Negative Gerund Questions
We can form negative gerunds into questions:
“Do you mind not doing that?”
“Shouldn’t we focus on not losing more clients?”
“Would you mind not running late tomorrow?”
“Can we learn better English by not missing classes?”
“Do you think not working hard is good for your mental health?”