Cannot or Can Not?

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Peter Ki asks:

What is the difference between ‘can not’ and ‘cannot’?

Although my personal Error Alarm buzzes whenever I see cannot written as two words, both forms are acceptable usage.

Merriam-Webster lists cannot as one word. If you try looking up “can not” in the online unabridged, you will be sent to a list of suggestions headed by cannot.

According to the entry in the OED, cannot is

the ordinary modern way of writing can not

The historical illustrations given for the negative in the OED shows cannot, can not, and even canot, as well as the contraction can’t:

?a1400 Cursor M. (add. to Cott.) p. 959. 105 And ou at he deed fore cannot sorus be. 1451 Paston Lett. 140 I. 186 Other tydyngs as yett can I non tell you. Ibid. 172 I. 229 Whethir it be thus or non I can not say. 15.. Plumpton Corr. 72, I canot get my money. 1706 Col. Records Penn. II. 256 The House cant agree to this. 1741 RICHARDSON Pamela I. 56 If he..as you say can’t help it. 1742 YOUNG Nt. Th. I. 89 An angel’s arm can’t snatch me from the grave; Legions of angels can’t confine me there. 1827 KEBLE Chr. Y. 4 Without Thee I cannot live. Mod. Can’t you go?

The experts at AskOxford seem to prefer cannot:

Both cannot and can not are acceptable spellings, but the first is much more usual. You would use can not when the ‘not’ forms part of another construction such as ‘not only.’

The Washington State University language site says:

These two spellings [cannot/can not] are largely interchangeable, but by far the most common is “cannot” and you should probably use it except when you want to be emphatic: “No, you can not wash the dog in the Maytag.”

Bottom line
There’s no difference in meaning between cannot and can not.

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96 thoughts on “Cannot or Can Not?”

  1. “cannot” is the negative form the auxiliary verb “can”
    Example- They cannot read the letters.

    “can not” when used with “only” means in addition.
    Example- I can not only dance but sing.
    The above example suggests that I can do the two things: sing and dance.

  2. I don’t think “cannot” and “can not” mean different things, though I agree with the well-made points above that “can not” could have a different interpretation to “cannot” in context. I prefer to use “cannot” for some reason and that’s why I don’t like seeing the words separated when the intended use in the context is “can’t”.

    “Can’t” and “cannot” are the same thing (both contractions of “can not”) and they mean the same thing (the inability to do something). Both “can’t” and “cannot” are defined as “can not”, and it makes sense that “can not” is not in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, because it is just the negation of can. So in that sense, technically all 3 are equivalent, and Maeve and the authorities were correct in saying that both “cannot” and “can not” are acceptable, and I do think “cannot” is more common. If you look up “could not” or “will not”, neither is in the dictionary. But their contractions are listed. That’s why “cannot” is listed in the dictionary, but I too would be interested why “cannot” is generally considered more correct (who knows, it could be because of the nuances discussed above by others).

    The main support for “can not” meaning something different is when used to mean “choose not to”, e.g. “I can not go to bed and go to a party instead.” The negation of can is rarely used this way because the sentence structure is poor and the meaning is unclear. That’s why there isn’t really a difference between “cannot” or “can not” in more common sentences (I don’t think that “cannot” inherently implies the inability to do something while “can not” implies the choice). Think about this sentence on a Website form: The fields with an asterisk are required and can not be blank. Replace “can not” with “cannot” or “can’t” and it means the same thing. In that context, it can’t mean anything other than the fields must not be empty. Personally, I would prefer “cannot” in that instance only because it looks better to me.

    I didn’t particularly like Maeve’s bottom line “There’s no difference in meaning between cannot and can not.”, but it is not wrong. Both forms can be used and would be correct. That being said, to make the intended interpretation clearer, I think it’s better to re-write the sentence if “can not” is being used to imply “choose not to”, otherwise use “cannot” when “can’t” can be substituted in its place. I would edit the bottom line to be “there’s no difference between cannot and [can’t].” to make it more obvious when to use cannot. For those still confused, re-read Paul’s great comments from Sept 21 and Nov 6 2009.

  3. Wow. People can come up with amazing reasons for justifying their beliefs, regardless of whether there is any factual basis. All you’ve managed to prove is that both “cannot” and “can not” have been in common usage for centuries and are recorded in numerous dictionaries. Remember, however, that there are many “common” words in dictionaries, and that hasn’t necessarily earned them any place of honor when it comes to correct usage.

    I have no doubt that “cannot” is merely a lazy, coarse and ignorant way of writing “can not.” As such, either form is correct for casual or “common” writing. For professional or formal writing, however, I prefer “can not” as the actual correct form. That is what I was taught, even into college, and that is as it will stay.

    Unfortunately, many people observe only the “common” form, don’t understand that it is made up of two words, and conclude that it is correct in all cases. Thus we get sentences that read, for example, “I cannot only see the cottage but the dock as well.” (By the way, there are two errors in that sentence model, but many people would be lucky to find even the more obvious one.)

  4. SongFrog,
    I cannot understand your aversion to the spelling of “cannot” as one word. “Lazy, coarse, ignorant”? The worst I can think of to say about your preferred spelling of “can not” is that it’s an acceptable alternate spelling, but that current usage–as reflected in the OED, Merriam-Webster Unabridged, and the AP Stylebook–prefers “cannot.”

  5. @TheSongFrog,

    1. If the obvious error you are referring to in your example sentence is the use of “cannot”, you would write the sentence with the words separated as “I can not only see the cottage but the dock as well”, agreed? In that case, why couldn’t you replace it with “can’t”? “I can’t only see the cottage but the dock as well.” Another example, “I can’t only sing, I can also dance.” It may look or sound unusual, but technically it is not wrong (it’s the contraction). Therefore, if you can use “can’t” you can logically use “cannot”, whether you think it is lazy, ignorant, common, or whatever your opinion. Though as I said, I do believe “can not” is a better choice for this type of sentence.

    2. You started your post by saying people come up with reasons to justify their beliefs without any factual basis. Where is your “factual basis”? You said yourself that “either form is correct for casual or ‘common’ writing. For professional or formal writing, however, [you] prefer ‘can not’ as the actual correct form.” Preference is not a fact or a form of proof. You can stick with what you were taught, which is completely understandable and not incorrect. But every one is taught different ways by different people, so the method you were taught also does not serve as proof. The authorities say both “cannot” and “can not” are acceptable, but “cannot” is usually preferred. So if you insist on using “can not” instead of “cannot” in the context of “can’t” because you think it is more formal or professional, it could actually be counter-productive because it is not the accepted use, and could cause confusion because the reader is trying to distinguish those instances that “not” is followed by “only”. If we can’t go by what authorities or style guides tell us, then what proof is acceptable?

  6. Hi all,
    What an exciting discussion here! 🙂
    I wonder why people keep coming here to post considered that Paul has covered the subject in all aspects.
    Especially in his post of March 18, 2011 2:57 pm, which is really brilliant! 🙂

    Although I am not a native speaker, I dare get rid of both errors below:
    “I can see not only the cottage but the dock as well.”

  7. What’s missing in this whole thread is some analysis of the citations to support the initial assertion.

    The answer from Ask Oxford is quite easily interpretable as an endorsement of Alex’s view. The Washington State University Language site is not even a site endorsed by the University but one professor’s home page. In the citation of the historical use of cannot it looks like an evolution toward cannot and it could be quite easily argued that “can not” (literal) is not used in single one of those cases where it means unable too. The one place it is cited is a fine example of how vague that construction is without some context.

    Alex is quite simply correct here.

  8. Writing hath no value, were it not to be read. Is not style and rhythm an inalienable right reserved to the author of the art?

    Perchance I shall lift a line from Shakespeare, to inquire of Oxford if the words hath been used or abused. Embarrassment likely shall follow.

    In my not Shakespearian example of can not, I stand behind the usage for emphasis, rhythm, and the fact that the object of shame is “not be stopped”. “be stopped” by itself has no meaning.

    Remember, this is NOT entertainment. It is only to be read by people who really want to. In the 4th grade we were shown a film about the Russian Revolution. The teacher started this film, and left the room. The narrator droned on about how there was so much hate, both sides wanted not only to kill, but to disfigure their enemy. On the screen, dozens of people were being lined up and shot multiple times in the face with rifles from very close range. I was horrified by my classmates, who were drooling and cheering in a very bloodthirsty way. These were real people after all, and NOT cartoon characters who were being killed. Children need to learn something about courage and character, before being exposed to bloodthirsty stuff. Alerted by the noise, the teacher returned, and immediately stopped the film. It was all a big mistake; it was the wrong film. It’s a crying shame hate can not be stopped so easily.

  9. Reading the above it seems the consensus is simply that;
    Cannot = can’t
    Can not [do whatever it is] = Has the ability to not [do whatever it is]

    Which makes a great deal of sense.

    So for two examples;
    ‘I cannot run’ would mean the person can’t run for whatever reason. Maybe they don’t have legs, or are too out breath to physically muster up the energy.

    ‘I can not run’ would mean the person doesn’t have to. As in what the hare thought in the story of the Hare and tortoise, or if you’ve got a note to avoid gym practice.

    The person can ‘not run’, as opposed to cannot ‘run’.

  10. English is not my native language, but IMHO, I think that both versions are correct. But the option to use which one depends on the context & the emphasis you need to put. My understanding is that “cannot” is the general usage & it’s not that emphatic. “Can not”, the two-words version, is much more emphatic. “You can not go wrong.” means “There’s absolutely no way that you can go wrong.”. So the situation is more like “Have this.” vs “Do have this.”. Both mean essentially the same thing, still you put more emphasis when you say “can not” by using the two words separately thereby highlighting the “NOT” quite explicitely. When you say “cannot”, the meaning is more casual & you certainly put less emphasis on it. But, after all, emphasis is something highly subjective & fussy, so I feel you can not come to a unanimous conclusion in a topic like this.

  11. Sorry Maeve. You are incorrect.

    I noticed a number of posts that understand the correct usage.

    Anything you say in a sentence following the word ‘can’, has the possibility of happening or not happening.

    EXAMPLE #1: “I can go to the store.”
    In this example, the speaker ‘can go’ or ‘can not go’ to the store.

    You understand here that the abridged version means that two scenarios CAN take place.

    EXAMPLE #2: “I cannot go to the store.”
    In this example the speaker’s actions are one; that is, he is not going to the store.

    You can understand here that the word unabridged version does not allow for the action described (“go to the store”) to happen. When abridged, the person “can” OR “can not” go.

    Using the abridged version, if used correctly, would hardly ever be used at all. Why? Because, again, if you ‘can not’ do something, that means you also ‘can’ do it, which negates the whole scenario and isn’t even worth mentioning.

    Try using it:

    “Mark, you can not eat my dessert!”

    Technically, Mark can eat dessert. He also can ‘choose’ not to.

    It would help many people if, whenever they abridge the word, put the word “choose” between ‘can’ and ‘not’, because that’s basically what you mean.

    “Mark, you cannot eat my the dessert!”

    Then, technically, he ‘shouldn’t’ by what the person is telling Mark. But with the power of free will, he can be an jerk and do whatever he wants (and, of course, he also ‘can not’ be a jerk!).

    EXAMPLE #3: When a husband tells a wife he “can not/cannot go to her parents house”.

    Decide for yourself. I know what us men are thinking!

  12. Maeve, I also noticed that you ask people who disagree with you to cite authoritative references.

    You are asking something that is so trivial and easily understood if you put some little thought into it. It’s completely bogus you ask for references. It’s basic English. Some people don’t know what they are talking about, if you reference them or not.

    SIMPLE: If you ‘can not’ do a task, then you also CAN do it. If you ‘cannot’ do a task, then there is NO CHANCE you can do it.

    I noticed a bunch of people who had it right. Especially Erik on April 10, 2011 who put it in such simple concept. But after I read the following post by ‘Jennifer’, I realized some people were just never going to get it. Hence the reason the argument exists.

  13. Since there are some who religiously use “can not” and others who use “cannot” at all times, it would appear that replacing both of them with “choose not to ” when appropriate might make communication clearer.

    The purpose of writing is to allow the reader to understand what is inside your head so seeing a difference between the two spellings would not communicate to some what you precisely mean. Rephrasing may allow true communication to happen.

    Besides, in most situations many would use “can’t” anyway.

  14. You guys are awesome.

    It seems like there are some on this thread that are missing a fundamental point about language. That point being, it changes.

    I remember 15 or so years ago when I was in high school and I was told, “Use ‘cannot’ and if you don’t, you are wrong!” Or something to that effect. Somehow, I still ended up on this site unsatisfied with that answer.

    It just seems to me that there are a lot of people who are looking for an answer. Well, if you want an answer, use ‘cannot’ and, most likely, no one will throw that much of a fit over it.

    If instead, you enjoy the journey and are actually interested in gaining a deeper understanding of what it is you are saying, I would say, stop, take a moment, and think about it. It doesn’t seem like there is anything wrong to me with using ‘can not’ when it makes sense to do so. Neither of the words are misspelled and you can certainly use them independently. So why all this fuss? Right, because ‘cannot’ and ‘can not’ actually do mean slightly different things and, if you do stop to think about it, you cannot help but arrive at that conclusion.

  15. I don’t remember ever even seeing the expression “cannot” in high school or college (80’s/90’s). Maybe it’s just because this was an age before SpellChecker? It looks wrong and, if I may be so bold, like something an uneducated person (or a Tweeter) would write.

    And just as no one (noone?) would write donot or willnot or shallnot, I refuse to write cannot ever again…

  16. In U.K., cannot is the correct form.
    You are free to use whatever you want in the U.S.A., in Philippines, in Singapore. Especially Singapore. There is even this film title : “I not stupid too”
    Ha ha.
    So, yeah, I cannot believe how some people keep asking question, “I am still confused.” or “I am a grandpa, and I have never seen cannot.”

  17. Studying both ‘can not’ and ‘cannot’ from a historical perspective, both phrases have an exactly identical etymological history. Both ‘can not’ and ‘cannot’ refer to an inability to do something. The -only- difference between the two is that one is a compound word. The original difference between the two had the same origin as all the other differences in spelling which were very nearly ubiquitous in every period until the advent of wide-spread and widely available dictionaries, coupled with the education needed to use them.

    Keep in mind, we are talking about proper English usage here. The entire philosophical slant addressed by many in this discussion is not only spurious, but misleading. In -one specific context- there is a difference between ‘can not’ and ‘cannot’, and that difference is based on a completely arbitrary decision regarding philosophical definitions. However, that decision has no bearing at all on proper English usage. Many English words have more exact, or even completely different meanings in specific contexts than they do in general usage.

    In addition, keep in mind that “can’t” is a direct abbreviation of cannot. If you ever use can’t, you can also use cannot. In fact, ‘can not’ is not found often in the majority of the English-speaking world. Use of ‘can not’ dates mostly from the birth of the US, and is found among a flurry of other changes made to English in order to differentiate the US from England. Many accepted the change, many did not.

    Therefore both are correct in any situation, unless you are using typography to denote emphasis, or if you’re discussing philosophy.

  18. Cannot mean something is imposible while can not writen apart mean in addition to.for example:Ade cannot sing. He can not only sing but also dance.that mean he can sing as well as dance

  19. I am not a native English speaker, but I learned about 13 years of English, and for me “cannot” seems instinctively incorrect. I suppose because similar terms (like “willnot”) don`t exist. But I can get used to “cannot”, if the term “can not” would be used to emphasis the world NOT, and when it`s not the question of ability, but choise. In the dictionary I read: “can not= an auxiliary verb expressing incapacity, inability, withholding permission, etc;” So when it expresses choice then it`s can not?

    I have the impression that I want to emphasise in all cases the term NOT.
    For example: “A girl can not tell a man when exactly he must do a thing. A man can not make something happen before its time.”
    Here I think I should use can not instead of cannot.

    What do you say?

  20. “John on June 11, 2009 3:49 am
    Please do not make pronouncements on subjects or topics that you are not reallhy qualified to judge.
    “Cannot” is unequivocal: it means you do not have a choice; something you cannot do is not something you “can” or “can not” do. It means that you are not able to do that thing.
    You “can” or “can not” take the dog for a walk, depending on your mood. If you are confined to bed with a broken leg, however, you “cannot” take the dog for a walk, regardless of your mood.”

    This John guy acts like a pretentious jerk.

  21. Sorry, but the argument about “cannot” being more unequivocal than “can not” is bogus. This belief must stem from spoken sentences where “not” is emhasized, e.g. “I can go or I can NOT go”. I guess in writing “cannot” makes it clearer that there is no emphasis on the “not” part, but that is pretty much the only difference between the two.

    I use both, often beacuse “can’t” sometimes looks untidy and too informal in writing.

  22. I read about half of the comments then got bored and skipped the rest so I apologise if this has already been said but I just wanted to share my view point.

    In my opinion, “can not” should rarely be used. “Cannot” is the opposite of “can” as I see it. “Can” implies a possibility and “cannot” implies an impossibility.

    Writing “can not” isn’t necessarily wrong, but it is a messy way of phrasing something and I don’t really like seeing it. For example, “I can go or I can not go” does makes sense, but I feel it should be “I can go or I can stay”. Another example I saw someone using was “I can talk or I can not talk” which would sound better (at least in my opinion) as “I can talk or I can keep quiet/remain silent/etc”.

    As I have said, it’s not wrong, it just seems “messy” to me.

  23. Sorry just wanted to correct something – can and cannot are more about capability and incapability, rather than possibility and impossibility.

    Also I suppose I missed out my opinion on the main issue here – whether or not “cannot” and “can not” mean the same thing. They don’t in my opinion. The confusion comes from emphasis being used in speech. For example, when someone says “you can NOT be serious!” You are really just emphasizing the word “cannot”. It’s like saying “that is UN believable”. It’s one word but you are stretching it out to add emphasis. If it were actually “you can not be serious” then that would be like saying “you can be joking around”, which is different, and would be a very strange thing to say to someone who has just told you something that you find hard to believe.

  24. I believe, that ‘Cannot’ is used when something is impossible.

    For instance: You cannot take the car, because it is broken.

    ‘Can not’ is used when you are not allowed to do something, like ‘May not’.

    For instance: You can not take the car, because I say so!

    Let me know if I’m wrong, hope this helped.

  25. I am sorry, but how is it possible for some of you people to find -can not wrong, when it is just like any other verb, despite being modal, and it has the same negative form like all the others, otherwise how could it ever be -can’t (short form) if it is not -can not (long form), whereas getting -can’t from -cannot seems rather stupid. Anyway, as I have learned this things throughout the years, I came to the conclusion that they are both of acceptable usage, and your comments about the can not used with -only are invalid, because then we’re talking about the context of the sentence not about the negative form of the VERB. How is it possible for -do, to have a negative form -> do not/does not and a shortened negative form -> don’t/doesn’t (or any other verb, ex. have – have not/haven’t), and the poor little verb -can to not have this negative form ? Or maybe it’s donot/havenot but we haven’t realised that yet. Cheers.

  26. “However, although split infinitives can sound awkward, many writers, recognizing that the traditional prescriptive ban of such constructions was founded on a misguided effort to emulate the supposedly perfect grammar of Latin, consider them acceptable”.

    Methinks, you are something of a prescriptivist, Mark. The split infinitive has been more than ‘acceptable,’ it has been *normal* in English for centuries and the Latinists should be told to just build a bridge and get over it (the same fate should befall their other hobby-horses of “It’s me” and singular ‘they’).

    As explains, “English doesn’t *have* an infinitive form of the verb in the way a language like French [or Latin] does. French ‘succéder’ is a single word [as is Latin ‘amare’], but English ‘to succeed [‘to love’] is not; it’s two words, one a subordinator (to) and the other a verb (the plain form of the lexeme ‘succeed’) which is the head of a verb phrase.”

    Good work on the others though!

  27. I am writing a novel, I can not believe all the fuss made over this i don’t care if you think I wrote that incorrectly, can not is passive (I hear the groans), I write, I do not believe all the fuss, I do not see a point to the futility of the can not debate. I write active prose: John threw the ball and not The ball was thrown by John. Was denotes passive, why isn’t the contraction acceptable, I can’t seriously believe all the fuss. Insult someone else, you’re wasting your literary arrows on me. It is up to the writer and the reader will pass by the one or two words in a blink of an eye and not care

  28. After reading the comments, I think I have a better understanding. Personally, I never used ‘cannot’ while growing up. in fact, it wasn’t until Microsoft Word started flagging ‘can not’ in my documents that I realized there was an issue.

    Anyway, the following might be helpful to those reading these comments:

    John can (go) to the store
    John can (not go) to the store

    In the above, ‘not’ doesn’t really belong with ‘can’, it belongs with ‘go’, so it makes sense to use “can not”. When you think of it this way, John has the ability to go to the store or to not go to the store. When you say:

    John cannot go to the store

    it seems to imply that John is unable to go to the store.

    As for “can’t”, I thought contractions were the combination of two words, so to me, “can’t” is a shortening of “can not”. I can’t think of any contractions that shorten a single word.

    My $0.02.

  29. The reason why only cannot is spelled as one word while the other modal auxiliary verbs are all written separately is quite simple.

    Because CAN ends in -n and NOT starts in N, too.

    That’s a phonetic reason, not a grammatical, constructional, semantic reason.

    Spelling is a method of recording “how the words are heard”.
    In fact, historically, the spelling “canot” even existed, only because “can not” sounded so! But both “CAN” and “NOT” have their meanings and “cannot” is more logical than “canot”, so CANNOT survived.

    If the negative meaning is emphasized, the pronunciation “canNOT” sounds more separately like “can NOT”, so for that purpose, “can not” is still used.

    If you try to find the reason why “cannot” is spelled as one word grammatically, it won’t take you anywhere. That’s a phonetic reason.

  30. I use “can not” in FORMAL writing, or in TECHNICAL writing, where it is not colloquial usage. Damn that Microsoft Word that keeps catching it and asking to correct it. Morons!

  31. I feel like they mean slightly different things. “You can not speak” means you can choose to remain silent, whereas “You cannot speak” means that you are unable to speak.

  32. I’ve always understood “can not” to mean “does not have to,” while “cannot” means “is unable to.”
    Examples: “What do you mean, I *have* to go? I can *not* go.”
    “I broke my foot, I cannot (or ‘can’t’) go.”

  33. Interesting. I have always used “can not”. Whenever I read “cannot” in an email or article, I assumed the author was mistaken. The other day my spell check told me I was wrong.
    “Cannot” always seemed as though it was condensed into one word the way weekend used to be the week’s end. Will need more info, but some great posts here.

  34. “I can not believe that I read this whole blog. Now I cannot fall asleep (because I am not able. All, thanks for sharing.” 😉 Paul, I’ve especially enjoyed reading your literature.

  35. I fail to see why we don’t use the words “can’t” or “can NOT” instead of cannot or can not. I’ve used can’t my whole life, but on occasions like,”I can NOT believe you!!!” I have used can NOT, not cannot or simply can not.
    To me, cannot (like Josh said) means that someone forgot to put a space between can and not.
    Also, can not feels weird purely because I was raised using can NOT or can’t.

  36. “No, you can not wash the dog in the Maytag.” – I will not give you permission to wash the dog …..

    “No, you cannot wash the dog in the Maytag.” – It is not possible to wash the dog ……. In truth you can, but it is inadvisable as the dog will likely die.

  37. In my mind, the difference arises from the fact that “can” is a measure of ability to do something, not requirement. “Cannot” is the negative version of “can” and indicates the inability to do something, whereas “can not” merely indicates the ability to not do something.
    “Can’t” is a contraction of cannot, and although it has very little use in formal writing, can be used to indicate the inability to “not do” something (e.g. “I can’t not go to the mall: Mr. Hankey is going to be there!”).

  38. Dear Moderator,
    I do not intend for this comment to be published, merely to ask you to edit a grammatical error that I made in my previous post. I wrote “”Can’t” is a contraction of cannot, and although…”, but the comma should actually go after the and (“”Can’t” is a contraction of cannot and, although…”) because it should be being used to set off an appositive, not to separate clauses in what I had originally intended to be a compound sentence.
    Thank you,

  39. I am still waiting for Microsoft to correct the bug in their Word application.

    I will not go.
    I may not be able to.
    I could not see that far.
    I should not try that.
    I CAN NOT believe that can not is unacceptable.

  40. Both “cannot” and “can not” are acceptable, although it’s more common to see the one-word spelling–“cannot.”

    A quick and dirty memory tip is to think of a magician taunting a rabbit with a carrot saying, “You cannot have the carrot.” Extend the R’s in “carrot” to the bottom of the line and, voila, the “carrot” turns into a “cannot.”

  41. People use cannot because they are lazy/language has drifted (oh, our imperfect engrish). Cannot is logically and grammatically equivalent to shallnot, willnot, donot, etc.. -like it or not

  42. I hate “cannot”. I hate Microsoft telling me to write it. It looks wrong. It feels wrong. I sounds wrong. I also read a lot. And I do not recall seeing “cannot” in a novel or technical literature. No doubt I am wrong. But I shall go to my grave being wrong, and continue to mutter ineffectively against Microsoft.

    And frankly, if Abraham Lincoln wrote it, that just means it’s wrong. Lincoln was self educated and only had intermittent schooling that probably amounted to less than 12 months. Conversely, my mother was University qualified in English and languages, and if she saw me write “cannot” she’d be spinning in her grave. Sorry mum, I didn’t mean to write that. Honest.

  43. This is due to largely American influence. For people educated in formal English (from England – from where English originated), there is NO “can not”, “alot”, “alright”, “calender”, “affect” instead of “effect” (with the mandatory vice versa corollary), “quiet” instead of “quite”, “defiantly” instead of “definitely”, “there” instead of “they’re”, “resign” instead of “re-sign” (a new contract).

    To stop somewhat-educated people like me bellyaching about this, the answer is VERY simple. The people that use these alternate spellings who maintain that English writing is changing MUST band together and PETITION the dictionary makers to make “can not”, “alot”, “alright”, “calender”, “defiantly” the CORRECT spellings, and NOT LIST “cannot”, “a lot”, “all right”, “calendar”, “definitely”, making these spellings INCORRECT. Otherwise we will continue to have this half-baked spelling arrangement whereby each side declares the other wrong.

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