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Question #1: What is the difference in meaning between "[to be] not invited" and similar negated forms? Is "to be not invited" an idiomatic form that has a meaning distinct from other ways of phrasing the lack of an invitation? Here are some examples from the Google search "to be not invited":

It seems this has a different meaning than other forms. For example, what is the difference in meaning between "Is John not going to be invited?" and "Is John going to be not invited?"

Question #2: Can this be generalized to other similar/parallel forms of negation "not to be verb" and "to be not verb" and other forms (see below)?

(These questions are inspired by the question, Is "To be not invited is sad" grammatical?)


In both Question 1 and Question 2, one may consider the following forms:

  • Not to be verb.
  • To not be verb.
  • To be not verb.
  • Any other form expressing a similar meaning.

Also, for this entire question/answer thread, one may attempt to creatively create contexts/scenarios in which there is a difference in meaning in order to explain how they could signify a difference.

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    In the first one, the title is actually Mom-to-be not invited to grandma shower. So it is a noun modified by not invited. – user6951 Jun 18 '14 at 0:59
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    This ELU discussion is actually helpful. Based on stricter grammar rules, it was taught that one should never put a word, including not, in between the to and the base verb in an infinitive. – user6951 Jun 18 '14 at 1:14
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    Wronger grammar rules, not stricter. – snailcar Jun 19 '14 at 4:08
  • Good catch on "Mom-to-be.." @CarSmack. I've replaced that with a better example: Syrian president to be not invited to Euro-Mediterranean summit – CoolHandLouis Jun 19 '14 at 4:19
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Roughly speaking, these forms are equivalent, and often the most salient consideration for a native speaker will be whether the construction "sounds right". Some sticklers might complain that to not be is ungrammatical because not splits the infinitive, but in reality, it's perfectly acceptable and nobody cares, although to not be (or any other split infinitive) is far less common than the "unsplit" version.

In terms of nuance, the placement of not can subtly shift emphasis. Not to be invited means a simple absence of invitation, but one may read to be not invited as an intentional and conscious disinvitation or omission. I read to not be invited with exactly the same semantics as not to be invited; the location of not depends entirely on what makes the sentence flow best.

The placement is a question of logical grouping. Is not invited a single unit specifying a particular quality, shifting to be ... closer to a positive statement? Or does not combine with to be, negating it to indicate the lack of the attribute of possessing an invitation?

Again, I'll stress that the differences are subtle, and many speakers won't draw these distinctions during conversation. Personal suspicions or biases are likely to have a much larger effect on inferring intent than placement of not.

I can't think of any reason why invited would stand out against other past participles in a not to be construction. What little nuance there is should generalize, as long as the distinction makes sense. If it doesn't, then there's no meaningful semantic difference among the constructions.

One final note, if there's no participle, use not to be. Shakespeare leads the way in this case:

To be or not to be, that is the question.

A more common usage:

It was not to be.

Of course, I'm biased by having read his work, but it sounds so much better this way.

Here's a greatly exaggerated example of how not placement and usage can affect meaning and flow.

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You are dealing with a verb and an adverb. The verb is to invite [the active form] or to be invited [the passive form]. The adverb, a modifier of a verb, is not.

There is a general rule that infinitives (to plus a verb form) should not be split. That is a formal approach that many, including many experts, disagree with. In any case, in ordinary speech, it is very common to split infinitives. For example

To boldly go where no man has gone before!

The formally preferred form would be either

Boldly to go where no man has gone before!

or

To go boldly where no man has gone before!

Most native speakers would find all acceptable, and it would be a question of what sounds best.

Not works similarly

He chose not to play the piano.

He chose to not play the piano.

He chose to play not the piano.

Arguably all are correct. The first is most common (and comfortable), The second is also fine, but it puts a bit more emphasis on not playing. It would make sense in a paragraph that said

All were gathered for the concert as he sat down in front of the instrument. He chose to not play the piano.

A bit of drama.

The last is also technically correct, but sounds very stilted and archaic (old fashioned).

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