auxiliary verb

can·​not ˈka-(ˌ)nät How to pronounce cannot (audio)
: can not
cannot but or cannot help but or less commonly cannot help
: to be unable to do otherwise than
we cannot but wonder why
I cannot help feeling sorry for them.

Examples of cannot in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Just like those unsavory relatives, leaders cannot—and should not—allow the behaviors of a certain few to hijack the culture for all. Shannon Gabriel, Forbes, 21 Feb. 2024 The reader can see what the characters cannot—what forced migration and residential schools have prevented them from seeing and sharing. Parul Sehgal, The New Yorker, 19 Feb. 2024 Many researchers say algorithms cannot—yet, anyway—consistently read the subtleties of human expressions in different individuals, which may not match up with stereotypical internal feelings. John McQuaid, Scientific American, 1 Dec. 2021 Business leaders cannot—and should not try to—solve complicated geopolitical problems. Peter Vanham, Fortune, 29 Nov. 2023 Experience—their ability to observe and draw connections where algorithms cannot—gives these forecasters an edge that continues to outperform the glitzy weather machines in the highest-stake situations. Meghan Herbst, Wired, 4 Jan. 2022 As great of a genius as Einstein was, his equations cannot—do not—account for all of the mysteries of the universe. Corey S Powell, Discover Magazine, 14 Jan. 2013 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cannot.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of cannot was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near cannot

Cite this Entry

“Cannot.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


can·​not ˈkan-(ˌ)ät How to pronounce cannot (audio)
: can not

More from Merriam-Webster on cannot

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