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  1. Anonymous
    Guest
    #1

    "Cannot" vs. "can not"

    "Cannot" vs. "can not"


    Are they interchangeable? Why?

    We are having a heated discussion about this in another forum. I've
    suggested some instances when "cannot" and "can not" are not
    interchangeable. For example:

    (1) ... can not only ....
    (2) "You can do it, or you can not do it."

    But the opposition keep denying that this is a dos-proof of their notion of
    perfect interchangeability. No matter how I explain and repeat they are
    still unconvinced.

    Can anyone help me out? Thank you.

  2. Casiopea's Avatar

    • Join Date: Sep 2003
    • Posts: 12,970
    #2

    Re: "Cannot" vs. "can not"

    RENO:
    "Cannot" vs. "can not"

    Are they interchangeable? Why?
    Hint

    If you can separate 'can' from 'not', then there's proof they're separate words; but, that's not to say 'cannot' and 'can not' hold separate meanings. They mean one and the same thing, no matter how you write them.

    1a. You cannot only....
    1b. Not only can you.... (proof that 1c is correct) :D
    1c. You can not only....


    cannot arose c. 1400 as an auxiliary verb; it's an orthographic (i.e. written) variation of can not. Either or is acceptable. Neither nor incorrect. You can separate them or join them. People usually join them. But I remember being taugh by the Nuns in school not to join 'can' and 'not'. And Webster's 1828 dictionary also mentions "These words are usually united; but perhaps without good reason, 'canst' and 'not' are never united." Those were the good old prescriptivist days.

    :D

  3. RENO
    Guest
    #3
    Thanks for the "can-not-only" part of the question.

    But how should I interpret the following sentence if they mean the same thing ?

    "You can do it, or you can not do it."

    The problem arises by seperating "can" and "not" is that an alternative interpretation will become possible. For example:

    "You can not do it" can be understood as:
    (1) "You - can - not do it." (refrain from)
    (2) "You - cannot - do it." (unable to)

    In this case, the sentence would not make any sense if we interpret it as "you can do it, or you cannot do it". :? So wouldn't our lives be a bit easier if we can substitute "can not" with "cannot" when we mean "unable to"?

  4. RonBee's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • American English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Feb 2003
    • Posts: 16,551
    #4
    Quote Originally Posted by RENO
    Thanks for the "can-not-only" part of the question.

    But how should I interpret the following sentence if they mean the same thing ?

    "You can do it, or you can not do it."
    That seems to me to be an unnecessarily complicated way of saying you can do it or not.

    Quote Originally Posted by RENO
    The problem [that] arises by seperating "can" and "not" is that an alternative interpretation will become possible. For example:

    "You can not do it" can be understood as:
    (1) "You - can - not do it." (refrain from)
    (2) "You - cannot - do it." (unable to)

    In this case, the sentence would not make any sense if we interpret it as "you can do it, or you cannot do it". :? So wouldn't our lives be a bit easier if we can substitute "can not" with "cannot" when we mean "unable to"?
    You seem to have come up with a usage that does not exist in real life. The sentence "You can not do it" means one of two things. It either means (1) the speaker believes that the person or persons he is directing his comments to are unable to do the stated action, or (2) the speaker is denying permission to someone to do something.

    You can already substitute "can not" for "cannot" (or vice versa) whenever you feel like it, and there is no real change in meaning. Try this. Say the one, then say the other. See if anybody can tell the difference. I'll bet they cannot. Or can not.

    *separate*

    :wink:


    • Join Date: Oct 2005
    • Posts: 1
    #5

    Re: "Cannot" vs. "can not"

    I'm rather old so I would appreciate some information. I grew up learning about contractions as combining two words. These included did+not=didn't, does+not=doesn't, should+not+shouldn't, and can+not=can't.

    I don't recall being taught cannot at all. Was this something fairly recent? Obviously can't isn't a contraction of cannot as a contraction is formed from two words. Cannot and can not can't mean the same thing.

    Thank you for answering in my silly question.


    • Join Date: Sep 2008
    • Posts: 2
    #6

    Question Re: "Cannot" vs. "can not"

    How about using this example to explain when it is correct to use "can not" as two words?

    EXAMPLE
    I can not make my usual stop at the coffee pot, if that would save more time for our discussion.

    In the example sentence above, one is saying they can do something, or they can save time by not stopping at the coffee pot.


    Therefore, use "can not" when referring to what can be done.

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