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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cannot vs. Can not

Depending on what generation you grew up with, you were probably taught in school that either cannot or can not, one or the other, was always correct. When I was in high school, my English teacher beat it into us that cannot was the proper form to use in every instance, but I came to question it in some cases when I was transcribing.

A quick Google search lead me to the answer – both are correct, but you must determine the context to decide which form to use.

The simplest way to explain the difference is like this. Can not is used in instances where you can do something or you can also not do something. Basically you have a choice. "I can go to work today, or I can not go to work today and use a vacation day." You would use cannot if there is no option. "I cannot go to work today, because my car will not start."

Cannot is probably the most commonly used form, but next time you are transcribing it, stop for a moment and think about the context.