Definition of cannot in English:


Pronunciation: /ˈkanɒt//kaˈnɒt/


  • Can not.

    • ‘Birds die of fright very easily, and cannot fly at night to get away from a noise source.’
    • ‘Sport cannot resolve all our problems but it can at least reunite us a little bit more.’
    • ‘The call is free from a landline, will not show up on an itemised bill and cannot be traced.’
    • ‘I cannot believe he has no thoughts of the club and supporters who gave him a good life.’
    • ‘I cannot imagine what it would have been like if she had had to travel all the way to Dundee.’
    • ‘The workload in Bradford is so great that it cannot take on any new clients at present.’
    • ‘If we cannot obtain democracy by normal behaviour we must obtain it by the back door.’
    • ‘This whole thing is tearing us apart because we cannot get to see our son every day.’
    • ‘They cannot deny facts and the truth but of course they will never admit they are wrong.’
    • ‘The best spinner in the world cannot take wickets for you from the other side of the globe.’
    • ‘It will ensure that we are governed by people whom we do not elect and whom we cannot remove.’
    • ‘What we have to recognise is that as a historic city we cannot build what we like where we like.’
    • ‘Anyone who would like to bid for one of the lots, but who cannot make it to the event can put in a sealed bid.’
    • ‘While that may certainly have been true a decade ago, it cannot be said to be the case now.’
    • ‘You cannot sit there and let someone into your house and let them perpetrate a crime.’
    • ‘It is now conceivable that there is a rift between them that cannot be easily healed.’
    • ‘Mesfin does not go to school and cannot be sure of clean water or of getting one square meal a day.’
    • ‘It is important to clarify that you cannot be sent to jail for not paying your licence fee.’
    • ‘At present, if you draw a company pension you cannot go back to work for that company.’
    • ‘Chemistry is one of those things that just cannot be planned for when casting a film.’


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 better only in a construction in which not is part of a set phrase, such as ‘not only … but (also)’: Paul can not only sing well, he also paints brilliantly