1. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    Cannot vs. can not in nonfiction

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by lustrousonion, Dec 2, 2014.

    I know that 'cannot' is the more common choice in fiction writing, but does anyone know about nonfiction? Opinions?
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I'd usually use 'can not', but it probably depends on the formality of the non-fiction and the flow of the sentence.
     
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  3. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Just keep it consistent is all you have to worry about.
     
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  4. firefox_3670
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    firefox_3670 New Member

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    To me, fiction or non-fiction, cannot acts as the normal form and can not is more of an emphasis.

    Like with:
    "You cannot do that!" and "You can not do that!"
     
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  5. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    Firefox_3670, I think I agree with you.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Using "cannot" is more common today. It's also less ambiguous. The word "not" may have an entirely different function in some cases (i.e., "can not only"). But more importantly, "can not" implies choice. For example, consider "I can not drink this tea." This suggests that the person can choose not to drink the drink. (For the sake of comparison, consider "I can drink this tea.") Using "cannot" takes away any choice and is therefore less ambiguous. So that's the one I would go with.

    Believe it or not, entire papers have been written on this issue. It's a subtle issue that isn't very likely to come up in the context of writing fiction/nonfiction, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.
     
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  7. Shachar Har-Shuv
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    Shachar Har-Shuv New Member

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    My english teacher says that "can not" is wrong. You should always write "cannot" or "can't"
     
  8. mad_hatter
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    mad_hatter Active Member

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    I like the use of 'can not' for emphasis. Think about how you say it out loud. The break between the two words forces you to emphasise the start of the 'not', otherwise they just roll together and become 'cannot' anyway. 'Can't', in my opinion, is a more informal, throw-away term.
     

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