Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I cannot understand it! from Betty

Dear Word Snoop,

Hi, it's me, Betty Autumn from Vermont, USA.

We are studying contractions in Grammar class ... if "let's" = "let us" and "didn't" = "did not" why does "can't" = "cannot (one word)? and not "can not" (two words like all the rest)? 

My mom and I wonder who decided to smoosh them together?


Dear Betty,

Always great to hear from you!

You know, this is something I used to wonder about myself at school.  I remember complaining about it to MY mother. 

But the answer is  -  the great UNKNOWN.

Contractions have been used in  English for hundreds and hundreds of years,  and, as you say, they mostly make sense. Hmm, but when it comes to "cannot",  nobody seems to know why the two words are glued together like that. It may simply be because the "n" at the end of "can"  had a natural tendency to stick itself to the "n" at the beginning of "not". So perhaps it's one of those things that just happened and we all got used to it!

Still, I like a good mystery....

Thanks for writing!

yours, cannily,

The Word Spy

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