Monday, July 28, 2008

"Can not" vs. "cannot"

Which is right? "Can not" or "cannot"?

Habit tells me "cannot," but I can't find this peculiar spelling in the index of any of my style guides.

However, Wikipedia gives me this quote, in which I've added the bolding to "cannot":
In this regard, the following quotation from The Chicago Manual of Style deserves notice:
Rules and regulations such as these, in the nature of the case, cannot be endowed with the fixity of rock-ribbed law. They are meant for the average case, and must be applied with a certain degree of elasticity.
I haven't thought about this issue in years. I usually work around it by using "can't."

What's your practice?

This is a reposting of one of the most popular posts on one of my predecessor blogs. I originally posted it in April 2006.

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

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  1. I was always taught that "cannot" is standard, but it may be separated to emphasize the "not": "Employees without a pass can not enter the building after 6:00."

  2. Interesting that separating the "not" is supposed to add emphasis. I'd probably bold or capitalize the separated "not" when emphasis is needed.

    Thank you for commenting!

  3. I always thought the distinction between the two was whether you could or could not actually do the thing in question. I can enter a building with a pass, therefore if I forget my pass I can not enter the building. This is compared to cannot which would imply the action could never be done. "I cannot be in two places at the same time."

  4. Interesting. I hadn't heard that before.

    Thanks for posting!


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