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I have three forms that I can think of for this sentence:

  1. The person admits to not having read the book.
  2. The person admits to having not read the book.
  3. The person admits not to have read the book.

Which, if any is most grammatically correct and why? Is there a better form than any of these?

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    Did you mean to use "to having read" in all three of those, not just in the first two? Why did you switch to an infinitive?
    – tchrist
    Commented May 16 at 15:23
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    @tchrist I thought “not to having read” sounded wrong. If that is the best option, I’m open to it.
    – Eric
    Commented May 16 at 15:33
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    This really doesn't constitute an answer on its own, but might be helpful anyway: Google Ngrams shows results exclusively for your first alternative ("admits to not having read"): books.google.com/ngrams/… I personally think all 3 versions sound fine, but given the lack of results for the other two, it seems like the first is probably the best choice. Commented May 17 at 1:27
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    It's difficult to confidently assess naturalness in a sentence where some other part of the sentence itself is unnatural. "The person admits" is unnatural. Could you edit it to something natural like, "The interviewer admitted...", or if there's a real context you intend to use it in, just give that sentence?
    – gotube
    Commented May 17 at 2:27
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    "She admits not to having read the book" would be correct only as part of a longer sentence like "she admits not to having read the book but to having listened to its audiobook".
    – ryang
    Commented May 17 at 5:13

1 Answer 1

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To help assess the naturalness of the negated gerund, I've replaced "The person admits" with something more natural:

  1. The interviewer admitted to not having read the book.
  2. The interviewer admitted to having not read the book.
  3. The interviewer admitted not to have read the book.

Sentence 1 is 100% natural, and means "accept blame".

Sentence 2 is fine, and has the same meaning, but is just slightly less natural, especially in writing. When sentence 1 is available, I'd need a compelling reason to use sentence 2.

Sentence 3 would be acceptable in unprepared English, such as a natural conversation, but in writing it's a mistake. Without the negation, it's unacceptable:

*The interviewer admitted to have read the book.

The intervening "not" somewhat hides that the grammar is bad, but I'd expect a good editor or standardized exam marker to flag sentence 3 as an error.

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    So, in general, removing the negation can at least help me eliminate incorrect sentence formulations?
    – Eric
    Commented May 17 at 19:26
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    @Eric In this case, and in most cases yes, but it's not a 100% reliable rule. There are situations where removing the negation would lead you to an incorrect conclusion because the structure specifically requires something in the "not" place. For instance, (1) "There's not much milk in the fridge" is correct, but, (2) "There's much milk in the fridge" is at best unnatural and highly marked. Yet it's incorrect to conclude from this that sentence 1 is incorrect.
    – gotube
    Commented May 17 at 21:46

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