Can’t vs can not vs cannot

I found it a common question, but when discussing in class, there is still divide between «it doesn’t matter» and «it matters»
I searched for informations, but they don’t exactly indicates which we should use. So, I want to know what’s the difference.
Thanks a lot!

There isn’t a difference in meaning. I’m not even aware of a significant difference in usage.

Our explanation is, «can not» and «cannot»‘s sound are the same, so they aren’t different. But when writing, I believe that they are not the same.
Thanks wandle and Fingon, I will explain that with Oxford dictionary.

There can be a difference in meaning, depending on the context and the emphasis as it is spoken.

«You cannot go.» = «You are forbidden/unable to go.»
«You can not go.» = «You can choose not to go.»

The US spelling is cannot.

Since I write «He may not come» and «He might not come,» I write «He can not come.» If you write «He maynot come» and «He mightnot come,» then it makes sense to me for you to write «He cannot come.»

I can not think of any reason to combine the single verb form «can» with «not» but not to combine any other verb form with «not» into a single word with no spacing. I’ve never seen an explanation for the form «cannot» (no space); perhaps I will encounter one someday, but then again, I might not.

Except that it is the current convention in AmE and BrE. For this reason I would recommend the fused form to foreign language learners. I have encountered many students from China who say they were taught to spell cannot as two words. in reaction to which I give them James’s distinction (post 5).

In BE, I don’t think I have ever seen can not used in its usual construction other than at the hands of a semi-literate; but yes, apparently it can be used.

Particularly in Scot dialect you find such examples as «Can you not play that thing so loudly?» which is fair enough but is the equivalent of the awkward construction, «I can not-play it.» — I am able not-to-play it.

Not only is it the current construction, there are references to «cannot» going back at least six hundred years.

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Can't vs can not vs cannot

It’s not a newfangled perversion; an oldfangled one, possibly.

Language isn’t always logical. If we have shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t and don’t we should have «willn’t» but instead we have «won’t».

I’ll just point out that cannot abbreviates to can’t with a missing n and in many places a different vowel. Since I make the distinction JamesM does, I do not abbreviate can not.

Gravitation can not be held responsible for people falling in love.

This is a quote from Albert Einstein. There seem to be two versions, «can not» and «cannot.» Usually grammar books tell me not to use «can not.» But in this kind of formal writing, is it all right to use «can not.» Also, which is more natural?

Thanks in advance.

«Can not» looks wrong to me, Akasaka, in that sentence. In informal writing, a writer would be likely to use «can’t» rather than «cannot».

I was always taught that the uncontracted negative of can was cannot (one word).

‘Cannot’ is a very anomalous form. The same kind of pronunciation (stress on the first syllable) would lead us to write ‘willnot’, ‘didnot’ etc. I don’t know why the writing ‘cannot’ exists or ever got started. There’s nothing special about ‘can’ that makes any difference here.

You often see the claim that there’s a difference in meaning between ‘cannot’ and ‘can not’. For example, if you don’t want to visit someone, there exists the possibility that you not visit them: we can not visit them. This is obviously different from the impossibility in: we cannot visit them.

Problem is, the same distinction can be made for other modals. We may not visit them (not visiting them is allowed) — we maynot visit them (visiting them is not allowed). But we don’t write ‘maynot’. In writing we just accept the ambiguity for other modals.

Avoid ‘can not’; use ‘cannot’.


I’m a little confused, not sure what you’re saying is unexpected—the fact that it’s written thus, or that it exists?

For me it’s not just a written form, it’s a word, with a different stress pattern and emphasis than «can not» (leaving aside the «possible to not» meaning entirely). «Cannot» is stressed on the first syllable, «can not» is stressed on the «not» (keh-NOT). I always stress «do not,» «will not,» etc., on the «not»; stressing the modal would sound foreign to me.

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So, it seems entirely reasonable that a different forms for writing «cannot» and «can not» exist, since they’re pronounced differently. On the other hand, I can offer no reason for why the first-syllable-stressed-word «cannot» exists in the first place.

Post mod (English Only / Latin)

You should use cannot where you would otherwise use can’t.

Can not has a different meaning, as entangledbank explains.

(MLA =Modern Language Association: Their style guide is standard for many academic fields in the US. For instance, college papers are often supposed be written according to this guide.)

(MLA =Modern Language Association: Their style guide is standard for in many academic fields in the US. For instance, college papers are often supposed be written according to this guide.)

entageldbank wrote «you often see that there is a difference in meaning».
That indicates to me that entangledbank is not convinced.

I’m not convinced. Cannot and can’t are the only forms I use.

I would use «can not» to express the idea that I have the option of not complying or doing something. E.g.:

I can go, or I can not go, depending on what I want to do.​

In I can not go, «can» reflects a positive ability, and not attaches to go; not go is the thing you either can or cannot do. I might say, «I cannot not go», which would be an arch way of expressing obligation.

«I cannot go» would mean something different to me.

Or perhaps I have misunderstood what you are saying.

cannot 1. Cannot, can not. Both spellings are acceptable, but cannot is more frequent in current use. Chambers 1985 insists that cannot must be used in British English unless the not is to receive particular emphasis. A couple of American sources (Oxford American Dictionary 1980, Trimble 1975) mention that the two-word form can be used to indicate special emphasis, although Irmscher 1976 warns that publishing-house style may prevail over your emphasis.

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I agree with mplsray,
Cannot= can not = can’t (Oxford english dictionary.)

I am not quite sure when or how to use cannot and can not.

In this sentence por example:

We inform you that the rejection is not a result that the fuel dispenser cannot function as a service mark.

Another: the usual or current forms of a product or its container, the forms that are necessary in a given product or service, can not be registered as a trademark.

Are they both correct? Thank you for your help.

Welcome to the forum, LB I’ve added your question on to the end of an existing thread ~ answers above

Unfortunately, this sentence is incomprehensible. Do you really intend to say, «result that» or do you mean «rejection is not a result the fuel dispenser

Except when not needs to be emphasised.

SMALL BOY: ‘Dad, can I have a bottle of beer?’

DAD: ‘No, you can not!’

If you want to write the uncontracted form of can’t then it certainly is cannot. The reason is the fact that «cannot» doesn’t exactly mean «can not».

I cannot have a beer — I am incapable of having a beer (for whatever reason).
I can not have a beer — I am capable of not having a beer.

While this is true, I think that simply writing can not in the second example sentence is not sufficient to get the intended idea across to the reader. Because there is a difference in pronunciation of the two sentences, with not being emphasized in the second sentence, I would write it as:

I can not have a beer.

Thank you all.
Thank you Paul Q

Paul Q. I just copied a sentence that someone sent to me. You are right, what the person was trying to say was: «rejection is not a result the fuel dispenser not function
Thank you.

The sentences in which can not effectively conveys the intended meaning are few and far between. I write in English for a living and I never use it. It’s just not a good way of conveying meaning or emphasis in writing (though it works in speech). So I agree that it should be avoided.

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