This is very illogical. If I cannot write * donot to mean "do not", it annoys me greatly. Is there a good reason we do not say * donot, or is it simply by chance that we cannot?

  • 2
    Possible duplicate of Why is “cannot” spelled as one word?
    – herisson
    Jun 4, 2018 at 6:10
  • But none of those answers specified why it is written as one word. It simply stated that different dictionaries consider them as the same word most of the time.
    – Shadowfax
    Jun 4, 2018 at 6:35
  • hawbsl's answer suggests that "cannot" is written as one word and "do not" is not because "cannot" has a double n, which corresponds with the pronunciation. A comment by Tsuyoshi Ito says "This reason seems plausible. Also I found that OED lists “wonnot,” “winnot,” “willot” and so on as negative forms of “will” but no similar words for the negation of “may,” which might serve as an evidence supporting that the repetition of the same consonants has something to do with the spelling of “cannot” as one word." It's true that none of the answers on that page seems very definite.
    – herisson
    Jun 4, 2018 at 6:37

1 Answer 1


We don't need to write ‘do not’ – usually pronounced /du/ /nɑt/– as two separate words, it's already been shortened and contracted in everyday speech. I present: don't (/dōnt/), the shorter and easier way to say (and spell?) “do not”.

P.S. “donot” looks too close to the American spelling of doughnut, “donut” pronunced /ˈdoʊˌnət/, for my comfort but that's merely coincidental.

Actually, I suspect that the single word donot never caught on, as far as I am aware, due to the pronunciation of the syllables don- and do-. In words such as donkey, donned, and donnish, and donate, donation, donnée, and donut, the letters do- never make the sound /du/ or /do͞o/ whereas the pronunciation of can in cannot is unaffected.

Wikipedia provides a handy list of negative contracted auxiliaries

The standard contractions for negation of auxiliaries are as follows:

From forms of be: isn't, aren't, wasn't, weren't
From forms of have: haven't, hasn't, hadn't
From forms of do: don't, doesn't, didn't
From modal verbs: can't (the full form is the single word cannot),
couldn't, mayn't (rare), mightn't, mustn't, shan't (for shall not), shouldn't, won't (for will not), wouldn't, daren't, needn't, oughtn't, usedn't (rare).

As can be seen in the list above, cannot is the only exception, so the "real" question is not why do not is not logically spelled as “donot”, but why the orthography of cannot is unique.

  • This doesn’t address the question: why do we write “cannot” rather than “can not” even if we have “can’t” as well. Note that these contractions “can’t” and “don’t” are informal and shouldn’t be used in formal writing such as reports and essays.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jun 4, 2018 at 7:08
  • @TomKelly the OP is primarily asking about "donot". As to formal vs informal language that's not the OP's main concern.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 4, 2018 at 7:40
  • The answer to your "real question" is given in the linked question: the meaning between "I can not walk" and "I cannot walk" may be different, a problem that does not arise with "I will not walk" or "I won't walk". To negate the can instead of negating walk, the space gets removed.
    – oerkelens
    Jun 4, 2018 at 16:49
  • @oerkelens and what happens in speech? Is this distinction even noticed? What is the difference between "He cannot walk", "He can not walk" and "He can't walk" in speech?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 4, 2018 at 16:57
  • @Mari-LouA For example, you would say, "Mark can shout... or he can not shout instead." However, I see from your answer that "do not" would not have the same need to differentiate between "do not" and *donot, so there is no point in using *donot.
    – Shadowfax
    Jun 6, 2018 at 4:28

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