In practice, it is very rare not be able to send this..

Could you please tell me if the order of the words in not be able to is correct? Also, should I add to before not ?


There are two infinitives, be and send, in the ungrammatical sentence

  • *It is rare not be able to send this.

and both infinitives need a to to mark them. Send already has to, but be does not.
That's what makes it ungrammatical.

The to can be inserted either before or after not;
both of the following are correct:

  • It is rare to not be able to send this.
  • It is rare not to be able to send this.
  • You are right that both word orders are correct, but the second is very much more common. books.google.com/ngrams/… – JavaLatte Sep 7 '16 at 17:00
  • Only in printed materials. In speech they're about even, or possibly the other way. – John Lawler Sep 7 '16 at 17:01
  • I did the NGram before you answered, but I wasn't sure why I was looking at to not be able to. You are right: that version is more common in spoken english. – JavaLatte Sep 7 '16 at 17:08
  • @JavaLatte: I don't want to have to point out that according to NGrams nobody starts a sentence like that. Apparently everyone except me uses either I want to not have to or I want not to have to, but I must say either of those would strike me as very "strange" in the context of my first sentence here. – FumbleFingers Sep 7 '16 at 17:27
  • More likely in writing, but not that common in speech. They don't have the right rhythm. – John Lawler Sep 7 '16 at 17:30

You have to add "to" in front of "be able" as you suggest as the construction requires the infinitive "to be", whether negative or positive.

The sentence has to read: "In practice, it is very rare not to be able to send this.

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