When it comes to writing tips for PTE, the aspiring students from Bengaluru, Chennai and Coimbatore have their best choice in Sahasriya. The training methods of both PTE Basic Course and PTE Advanced Course are standing examples of writing tips for PTE. Sahasriya’s writing tips for PTE training has led to 95+% success in PTE and over 2,500 students clearing PTE in their first attempt. With years of experience on PTE, Sahasriya is the destination for high rate success in PTE. In Bengaluru or Chennai-Velachery and Porur or Coimbatore, everyday’s note on important aspects of English language is a standing example of success in PTE. Today, it is about ‘Cannot‘ and ‘Can not‘.

English rules surrounding compound words and contractions are not always easy to remember.

Cannot belongs to a certain category of helping verbs and almost always appears as a single word. There are very rare occasions, however, where it is appropriate to have the words separated. Continue reading to find out what they are.

When to Use Cannot

Writing tips for PTE Cannot

What does cannot mean? Cannot is a contraction of the two words can and not. It functions as an auxiliary verb that describes an action as impossible or not allowed.

Here are some examples,

  • You cannot have any pudding until you eat your meal.
  • You cannot possibly jump far enough to reach the other side of the chasm.

On a more technical level, cannot is a negative modal auxiliary verb. Modal verbs, like can, modify grammatical mood; in other words, they reflect a person’s perception of the possibility, likelihood, obligation, or necessity of an action or event.

The verb can communicates the potential mood, which indicates likelihood or possibility. In the contraction cannot, the likelihood or possibility is negated, therefore expressing impossibility or denial.

Is Cannot One Word?

Writing tips for PTE Cannot

Most readers here probably know the aforementioned information; they understand the meaning of cannot. The primary question at hand is, “Is cannot one word?”

In most cases—say 99 percent of ordinary writing—cannot will appear as a single word. There are only rare circumstances that cannot should appear as two words—and most of these should probably be rewritten anyway (see below for more examples)

Cannot can also be shortened into the contraction can’t, which means the same thing.

For example,

  • You can’t drive faster than the speed limit and expect to avoid getting a ticket.

Remember, however, to avoid contractions in formal writing.

When to Use Can Not

Writing tips for PTE Can not

What does can not mean? Can not, as two separate words, is not a proper verb phrase. When describing an action which is impossible, you should always use cannot.

The words can and not should only appear together when they are part of separate but adjacent phrases.

For example,

  • By buying two cakes, Anand can not only have his cake, but he can also eat it, too.

In this sentence, not is a part of another construction, i.e., not only…but also. In this case, you would separate cannot into two words.

You might also just rework the sentence as a whole.

For example,

  • Since Alina bought two cakes, she can now have her cake and eat it too.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Writing tips for PTE Cannot can not

Here is a trick to remember can not vs. cannot.

A good rule of thumb is that cannot is always one word, never two.

Of course, rules are meant to be broken, and sometimes, albeit rarely, cannot can appear as two words. In these rare cases where it is appropriate, you would be well advised to simply rephrase your sentence, but if you insist on keeping it as it is, just remember that can not must be a part of two separate constructions to be correct.


Is it cannot or can not? These two spellings cause a lot of problems for writers, but the solution is quite simple.

  • Cannot should always be spelled as a single word.
  • Cannot can be further shortened into the contraction can’t.
  • Can not should only be used when not is part of another phrase.

Now that you know the difference between cannot and can not, you don’t need to worry about misusing either of them. Any time you need a reminder, you can reread this article.

This daily series is an effort by Sahasriya in providing best writing tips for PTE as a part of writing success in PTE. These vital tips ensures a student’s aspiration with Sahasriya is the most effective which is what hundreds of students benefit from everyday.

About Govind Desikan

AvatarGovind, a master of English language has taken to sharing his experience on English language and focus specifically on finer inputs on English language, IELTS and PTE exams through his posts here.

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