Cannot or can not?

Clearly not!

Can be both. Cannot and Can not.

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In that case all modals in the negative should also be treated as one word. E.g. Mustnot, shouldnot, couldnot etc

Unfortunately this is only true for Cannot.

The original question was whether “can not” is one word. Not that in this special case both forms have become acceptable.

Cannot is one word. Can not is two words. Both are acceptable.


His suggestion was that I should use the form “cannot” instead of “can not”. If both forms are accepted forms of speech, which they are, then there can be no objection to using either as he seemed to imply.

I cannot speak.
I can “not speak”.


Your point?

I cannot speak => speaking is not an option
I can not speak => not speaking (as well as speaking) is an option

I believe there’s a reason why they created “cannot” but not wasnot and doesnot


But you don’t know what the reason is?

Thanks for clearing that up for me. It’s something I always wondered about.


If “cannot” and “can not” are absolutely the same in the meaning they convey then “cannot” is reduntant, Regardless of whether it’s regarded as one of two words. If they have different functions, I like someone to clearly explain it to me. It just seems arbitrary on the part of American English that promoted its usage. Growing up I never saw “cannot”.

I think it should almost always be “cannot”. The exception is typically when the “not” is part of another construction, as in Marco’s example (edit: I think I meant MadamBroccoli here) or something like “I can not only do carpentry but also metalwork”. (Ignore the awkward lack of parallelism with “do” there, was struggling to think of an example.)

See here or here or here, for example. I don’t think it’s exclusively an American English thing, either.

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are you sure?




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I thought I just did

Mom says I cannot go to the McDonald’s.
=> mom wouldn’t allow me to. I want to but I can’t.

Mom says I can “not go to the McDonald’s
=> I don’t need to if I don’t want to. I probably don’t want to.

I cannot help you.
=> I want to but I don’t have the ability.

I can “not help you”
=> I don’t really want to help you so be grateful.

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I said clearly. Just kidding :joy:

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Can I not (sorry I had to separate them lol) extend the same analogy to “must not”? For example, “you must not only finish your homework but also clean your room”. In the sense of not being allowed we should use “you mustnot clean your room before finishing your homework”?

cannot is an exeption. maybe