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  1. #1
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    Question Use of 'cannot' vs 'can not'

    Hi,

    I understand that 'cannot' is one word and should
    be used when the intended meaning is the negative of
    'can'. For example, "I cannot swim."

    "Can not" can only be used in this type of a sentence:
    "He can not only speak English but also Japanese."

    However, I see more and more people using "can not".
    Is it becoming acceptable to use "can not"
    or is it still considered incorrect to use it instead of
    "cannot"?

    In the US do teachers of English mark such usage ("can not") as wrong?

    Thanks

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Use of 'cannot' vs 'can not'

    It's "can not", not "cannot."

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Use of 'cannot' vs 'can not'

    I found the following in the book "The Most Common
    Mistakes in English Usage" published by McGraw-Hill
    and written by Thomas Elliott Berry, Professor of English,
    West Chester State College, West Chester, Pennsylvania:

    ----begin quote----

    An authoritative ruling has now been established concerning
    the use of "can not" and "cannot." The correct form is now
    almost universally considered to be the single word "cannot."

    Wrong: I can not attend the meeting.
    Right: I cannot attend the meeting.

    ----end quote-----

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Use of 'cannot' vs 'can not'

    Hi Teachers,

    I would appreciate any response to this. :)

    Do you consider 'can not' as a negative form of
    'can' and therefore accept it in formal
    written communication?

    Thanks.
    Last edited by englishstudent; 15-Sep-2005 at 12:40.

  5. #5
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Use of 'cannot' vs 'can not'

    The correct form is 'cannot'. Many would consider it incorrect to write it as two words, and it does look very strange, so I would avoid it altogether, but especially in formal writing.

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    Default Re: Use of 'cannot' vs 'can not'

    Thank you tdol for clarifying that.

  7. #7
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Use of 'cannot' vs 'can not'

    You're welcome.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Use of 'cannot' vs 'can not'

    http://www.bartleby.com/68/4/1104.html

    cannot, can not, canít


    The negative of the auxiliary can, cannot occurs less frequently than the contraction canít but much more frequently than can not, which is sometimes used for emphasis and to reflect the fact that this locution may be stressed on the not as well as on the can. Cannot is Formal, canít relatively Informal in writing, and canít is the more frequent in Conversational contexts, but it is often appropriate as well even in some Oratorical uses. All three forms are Standard. Cannot, like canít, is a very frequent replacement for may not.

  9. #9
    JJM Ballantyne is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Use of 'cannot' vs 'can not'

    Well, first, we're simply talking about writing conventions here. And, simply put, "can+not" is usually written as one word.

    However - and particularly here in the UK - I have seen it written as "can not" but always for the singular and specific purpose of emphasizing "not" over "can.

    And don't be misled by "authoritative statements." There is no "authority" on this other than the conventions I've outlined above.
    Last edited by JJM Ballantyne; 17-Sep-2005 at 18:52.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Use of 'cannot' vs 'can not'

    I agree; the claptrap written by Professor Berry is simply more erroneous prescriptivism.

    There are many collocations that tend to be used more than others. This doesn't make one collocation right and another wrong.

    Using contractions, as in, "He's a doctor" is far and away the norm for speech. That doesn't exclude, "He is a doctor", used, for example, when we want to be more emphatic.

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