The following sentence came up and started a discussion between me and a friend over the grammar and the use of the word to:

Now that the weather is frightful, why not (to) spend the time indoors with friends and family

My friend's argument is that we must use the full infinitive form. To that I argue that we are using that form, we should just skip the leading to. Which is correct? Should the to be there or not?

I believe the following is a minimal, simplified version of the sentence:

Why not to do it

But in this case it makes sense for me to say it both with and without the to, although I feel that those two versions have slightly different meanings (I would also put the stress slightly differently in either case):

Why not do it

Why not to do it

Whereas it feels incorrect to me (but not to my friend) to use the to in the example in the beginning.

Some advice for clearing this out?

  • 2
    "Why [not] do it" is an imperative question (so it uses the infinite verb, but without the marker 'to'). "Why [not] to do it" is a fragment (not even a sentence) -- marking the verb ('to do') changes it to a noun (like a gerund).
    – amI
    Nov 26, 2018 at 9:01

2 Answers 2


The marked infinitive, for example

to err

resolves to something like a noun; it plays a nominal role, so that it can be used as a subject or object:

To err is human.

The question-word why wants a verbal complement that resolves to an action:

Why use more than one fork, one for salad, one for the main meal, one for dessert?

Why go to the beach during a thunderstorm?

Why take the crowded highway when you can take a quiet back way with little traffic?

Why sing in the shower?


"Why not do it?"

This example is phrased as a rhetorical question. The word "not" negates the word "why", so you are asking for a reason why "it" should not be done.

"Why not to do it"

In this second example, the word "not" negates the verb "to do". This is no longer a question, but perhaps how you might begin an explanation of why one should not do something.

Now that the weather is frightful, why not spend the time indoors with friends and family?

This is also a rhetorical question - a suggestion to spend time indoors with friends and family and does not require an answer, unless of course there is a reason for the other party to object to the suggestion.

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