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How to use cannot, can not, and can’t correctly and properly in a sentence

“Cannot” and “can’t” mean the same thing, i.e., the inability to do something. However, they are both used in different ways.

Kimberly Ann Potts
Kimberly Ann Potts

Cannot and can’t

Using “cannot” or “can’t” can be one of the most confusing things in written and spoken English. “Cannot” and “can’t” mean the same thing, i.e., the inability to do something. However, they are both used in different ways.

Using cannot in a sentence

Of the two words, cannot is the right word when writing or talking in a formal setting. Therefore, write-ups intended for research, academia, and other professional use, take cannot instead of can’t.

Examples include

According to Professor Stones’s journal, there cannot be a correlation between what causes the event and the result.
We cannot publish your journal.

Cannot is also the appropriate word when trying to emphasize something. Although can’t is also suitable. Many people believe cannot is stronger than can’t.

For example:

“I cannot believe Manchester United lost against Liverpool in such a humiliating manner” sounds stronger than “I can’t believe Manchester United lost against Liverpool in such a humiliating manner.”

Using can’t in a sentence

Can’t is a contracted version of cannot applicable for informal settings. Therefore, it is the more common form when people speak casually.

Examples include:

I can’t get you pizza; my network is down.
You can play football without a pair of soccer boots.

While most people won’t use can’t in a formal setting, it is still allowed in a formal writing style such as MLA or write-ups that need to be conversational and approachable.

Can not or cannot

Another word related to cannot and can’t people have problems with is “can not.” Unlike cannot or can’t, “can not” does not mean the same thing as the other. Can not is majorly used before “not only” with can acting as a helping verb.

In this setting, “Cannot” is not the appropriate word.

For example:

“Julius construction can not only build the road, but they can also help with renovating the surroundings” will mean that Julius construction can build roads and renovate the surroundings. This would mean a different thing with cannot or can’t.

Using can’t, cannot, or can not is confusing if you are new to English. However, reading through this article will introduce you to using them seamlessly in your write-ups.

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Kimberly Ann Potts

My name is Kimberly. I'm an experienced copywriter and editor. I like writing about complex topics to help readers find the correct answers.


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