Spelling matters: 'can not' or 'cannot'

Jun 30, 2010

A correspondent has raised the matter of the difference between can not and cannot. I don't see it as a British/U.S./Australian difference but as a question of emphasis.

For example:

I cannot see the point. 
With the emphasis on cannot.

I can not see the point.
With the emphasis on the not.

There are contexts where you deliberately go for can not -- where the not is part of another construction.

For example:

I can not only swim out a fair way but actually reach the other side.
I can do it or not do it as I choose.

The sentence: I can not do my homework if that is how I feel.

Is quite different from: I cannot do my homework however much I try.

Do you make any distinction between can not and cannot?

Find more spelling tips and tricks in our Spelling Matters series.

Want some help with other common confusables? Check out our other comparison blogs

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