Cannot vs Can Not vs Can’t – What’s the difference?

When we encounter different words with the same meaning, we tend to make mistakes very often. One example would be the use of cannot, can not, and can’t.

While “cannot” and “can’t” mean the same thing, they both are used differently in different contexts. And the word “can not”, however, happens to be completely different in characteristic.

Let us discuss this in detail and understand them better.

Cannot vs Can Not vs Can’t – Difference

Use of Cannot

The word “cannot” describes the inability of a person to do something. It is used when we indicate that someone is unwilling or unable to do something. “Cannot” is generally used in formal writing such as letters, reports, applications, etc., which interacts with an official intention.

Cannot” can also be used to emphasize a particular point. That is to indicate “not” in a strong manner.

Let us look at some examples;

  • The Ministry cannot afford to lose the bet.
  • The teacher cannot disclose the rules of the competition.

In the above examples, we can see that “cannot” is used to indicate the inability of someone to do something.

  • I cannot do it without you.
  • She cannot do it around people.

Here we can see, cannot is used to emphasize strongly on “not”.

Use of Can Not

Can not” is used as separate words. It is different from “cannot” as “can not” is used in sentences where “can” precedes a phrase that supposedly starts with the word “not”. As a helping verb, it is usually paired or used with “not only” happening right after “can” and “but also” in the second part of the sentence.

Let us look at some examples;

  • Training can not only be helpful but also very effective.
  • She can not only debate, but she is also a very good teacher.

We see, the words “can not” appear as separate words. “Can” is used with a phrase that starts with “not” right after.

Use of Can’t

Can’t” is much simpler. It is just the contraction of the word “cannot”. Which means it is a shorter form of the word “cannot”. It is more informal in nature and is used when a conversation is casual. Although it can be used in formal speeches as well, it is generally more suitable in informal writings or speeches.

Let us look at some examples;

  • I can’t do this anymore.
  • You can’t just keep talking to her.

So we see, “can’t” is basically used when the conversation tone is a bit casual. But to put it logically, it is just an informal replacement of the word “cannot”.

To conclude, we understood that cannot and can’t have the same meaning, but “can’t” is an informal version of the word “cannot”. Whereas “can not” is used separately in a sentence where “can” and “not” happens to appear simultaneously.

It is important to understand these differences. You should not use the shorter version when the two-word version is required, or you should not use the contraction when the formal word is required. Keeping these points in mind will help you improve your skills.

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