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See also: can not


Alternative forms[edit]


can +‎ not


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈkænɒt/, /kænˈɒt/
  • (file)
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈkæ(n.)nɑt/, /ˈkɛ(n.)nɑt/, /kə(n)ˈnɑt/
  • (file)
  • (Canada) IPA(key): /kəˈnɑt/
  • Hyphenation: can‧not
  • Rhymes: -ɒt



  1. Can not (be unable to).
    I cannot open the window. It is stuck.
  2. Be forbidden or not permitted to
    • 1668 December 19, James Dalrymple, “Mr. Alexander Seaton contra Menzies” in The Deciſions of the Lords of Council & Seſſion I (Edinburgh, 1683), page 575
      The Pupil after his Pupillarity, had granted a Diſcharge to one of the Co-tutors, which did extinguiſh the whole Debt of that Co-tutor, and conſequently of all the reſt, they being all correi debendi, lyable by one individual Obligation, which cannot be Diſcharged as to one, and ſtand as to all the reſt.
    • 2013 June 21, Karen McVeigh, “US rules human genes can't be patented”, in The Guardian Weekly, volume 189, number 2, page 10:
      The US supreme court has ruled unanimously that natural human genes cannot be patented, a decision that scientists and civil rights campaigners said removed a major barrier to patient care and medical innovation.
    You cannot enter the hall without a ticket.

Usage notes[edit]

Both the one-word form cannot and the two-word form can not are acceptable, but cannot is more common (in the Oxford English Corpus, three times as common). The two-word form is generally required in constructions where not is part of a set phrase, such as 'not only... but (also)': Paul can not only sing well, but also paint brilliantly.

An important contrast is that cannot is definitive, whereas can not is open to other options: Jane cannot go to the party. indicates an insurmountable obstacle preventing Jane's attendance at the party, whilst Jane can not go to the party. indicates that Jane is free to choose to attend or be absent.

In spoken English emphasis may be placed on the first syllable of cannot (e.g. /ˈkænɒt/) in the first phrase and on not in the second phrase (e.g. /kən ˈnɒt/) when it is intended to clearly articulate which form is meant.




cannot (plural cannots)

  1. Something that cannot be done.
    the cans and cannots
  2. A person who cannot do (something).




Related to French cane ((female) duck) and canard (duck; drake); see there for more. Cognate with French canot (little boat).


cannot m (plural cannots)

  1. (Jersey) duckling

Derived terms[edit]