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See also: cant, cânt, çant, ca'n't, Cant., and Cant


Alternative forms[edit]


can +‎ -n't, since 1706[1] or earlier.[2]




  1. Cannot (negative auxiliary[3]); is unable to; does not have the ability to.
    Antonyms: be able to, can
    I can’t quite get it to work.
  2. Is forbidden to; is not permitted to.
    Antonyms: be able to, can, have to, must
    You can’t enter the hall without a ticket.
  3. Often followed by be: is logically impossible.
    Antonyms: be able to, can, have to, must
    The butler can’t be the murderer because he was in London that evening.
    • 1750, W[illiam] Ellis, The Country Housewife's Family Companion: Or Profitable Directions for Whatever Relates to the Management and Good Œconomy of the Domestick Concerns of a Country Life, According to the Present Practice of the Country Gentleman's, the Yeoman's, the Farmer's, &c. Wives, in the Counties of Hertford, Bucks, and Other Parts of England: Shewing how Great Savings may be Made in Housekeeping: [...] With Variety of Curious Matters [...] The Whole Founded on Near Thirty Years Experience, London: Printed for James Hodges, at the Looking-glass, facing St. Magnus Church, London-Bridge; and B. Collins, bookseller, at Salisbury, OCLC 837728611, page 157:
      To make Capons [] [S]ome for this Purpoſe make it their Buſineſs after Harveſt-time to go to Markets for buying up Chickens, and between Michaelmas and All-hollantide caponize the Cocks, when they have got large enough to have Stones [i.e., testes] of ſuch a Bigneſs that they may be pulled out; for if they are too little, it can't be done; []

Usage notes[edit]

  • Some US dialects that glottalize the final /t/ in can’t (/kæn(ʔ)/), in order to differentiate can’t from can, pronounce can as /kɛn/ even when stressed.

Derived terms[edit]


For other translations, see can and not.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2022), “can't”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. ^ can't”, in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  3. ^ Arnold M. Zwicky and Geoffrey K. Pullum, Cliticization vs. Inflection: English n’t, Language 59 (3), 1983, pp. 502-513