Question for all you native (and fluent) speakers out there, especially language geeks:
I generally don’t split infinitives in English. There’s one case that I’m stuck on, though, because I’m not sure if there’s another way to indicate the difference I have in mind: “not to do X” versus “to not do X.” The former implies that X is not done, but possibly through inattention or accident; the latter, a usage borrowed mostly from the speech habits of computer scientists, implies that the not doing of X is a primary objective of one’s actions.
Is there a more correct way to say this? It feels clunky every time I say it.
(What brought this to mind was a news article about the Clintons’ married life, where they say that Mr. Clinton “has told friends that his No. 1 priority is not to cause her any trouble.” When I read that, it seemed that “not” was modifying “is” rather than “cause,” which would suggest that his next line ought to be “It’s to make sure other people do! Wahahahaha!”)