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09/24/2012

Am I Supposed to Use “Can Not” or “Cannot”?

Many people believe that there are esoteric differences between “can not” and “cannot,” and that you must choose the appropriate form depending on the specific sentence you’re constructing. The truth is, “can not” and “cannot” mean exactly the same thing, and you are free to choose whichever you prefer.

Let’s take a look at the dictionary definitions of “cannot.” The American Heritage College Dictionary defines “cannot” as “the negative form of can,” dictionary.com defines it as “a form of can not,” and Merriam-Webster defines it straightforwardly as “can not.” The big daddy of dictionaries, the OED, agrees, defining “cannot” as “the ordinary modern way of writing can not.”

So bottom line, despite the squiggly line that appears in your document when you type “can not,” both forms are correct. It is true that “cannot,” written as one word, is the more commonly used form, so that would be the option to choose unless you have a powerful preference to “can not” for whatever reason. In general, “can not” is preferable in two situations: the first is when you are using a construction such as “not only,” as in, “You can not only read the newspaper, but also use it as a birdcage liner.” The second is when you want to provide emphasis, as in, “You can not possibly be serious.”

Isn’t it great having options? Just remember to be consistent, whichever form you choose.

Posted by: ADMIN

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