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I've never understood what gave rise to these two forms for saying what seems to me to be the same thing -- can not and cannot. I use them both, but with no articulated rationale. Sometimes one "feels" right, sometimes the other.

Can anyone shed light or share thoughts on this?


sheila
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I've never understood what gave rise to these two forms for saying what seems to me to be the same thing -- can not and cannot. I use them both, but with no articulated rationale. Sometimes one "feels" right, sometimes the other.

Can anyone shed light or share thoughts on this?

From Garner's Modern American Usage:

"cannot should not appear as two words, except in the rare instances when the not is part of another construction(such as not only...but also0 -- e.g.:  'His is among very few voices that can not only get away with numbers like "You Are So Beautiful to Me" and a reggae/salsa remake of "Summer in the City," but actuall make them moving.'  Jamie Kastner, 'Joe Cocker Proves He Can Still Rock 'n' Roll,' Toronto Sun, 8 Mar. 1995, at 64.  Cannot is preferable to can't in formal writing."

From Oxford American Dictionary usage note:

"
Both the one word form cannotand the two word form can not are acceptable, but cannot is far more common in all contexts.  Indeed, can not has come to be so unusual that it may be read as an error.  The two-word form is advised only in a construction in which not is part of a set phrase, such as 'not only...but(also)':  'Stevenson can not only sing well, but he paints brilliant.'"

You're welcome.

MOI
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You're welcome.


You got it!

And that may even make up for liking those messy periods in your eg's and ie's!


sheila
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And that may even make up for liking those messy periods in your eg's and ie's!

Heh heh.

Have I mentioned how much I love my Sharp electronic dictionary?

Love, love, love!

MOI
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If everyone used them consistently (which is not the case), one could perhaps say

can not == has the option and ability to refrain
cannot = does not have to option and ability to do

But in fact both forms are used for both meanings - along with "probably shouldn't", "can but I wouldn't like it", "oh, that was hilarious", and a few other things.
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Stevenson can not only sing well, but he paints brilliant  ??

OCD: he paints brilliantly

--SirTas
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Native German speakers have a hard time grasping the difference between   can and know. I've heard several of them say, "I don't can..."  instead of "I don't know how to...".

Just an observation.

~aj
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OCD: he paints brilliantly

My bad.  The quotation typing was getting a little too long and I was in a hurry.  I looked it up in the original and it was correct.
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Native German speakers have a hard time grasping the difference between   can and know. I've heard several of them say, "I don't can..."  instead of "I don't know how to...".

Just an observation.

Maybe they're saying "ken." 

"I don't ken...."

MOI
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Maybe they're saying "ken." 

"I don't ken...."


Ah hah!  Again from my Sharp electronic dictionary.  The words 'know' and 'can' have the same Indo-European root.

Quoting from the derivation of "ken":

"Old English cennan 'tell, make known,' of Germanic origin; related to Dutch and German kennen 'know, be acquainted with,' from an Indo-European root shared by CAN and KNOW...."

(Bolded emphasis added.)

MOI
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Stevenson can not only sing well, but he paints brilliant  ??
------------------------------------------
OCD: he paints brilliantly


I don't find that an eg of OCD.


sheila
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