0

I was reading a poster recently which stated:

Babies love skin on skin – can't you tell?

And I realized that while this is perfectly grammatical, if I were to now replace can't with can not (which is the non-abbreviated form) it would no longer be so:

Babies love skin on skin – can not you tell?

I found this interesting because generally it would be fine to use the non abbreviated form, see the following for example:

I can't tell

Becomes:

I can not tell

Which is just fine.

So is Babies love skin on skin – can't you tell? a valid usage of the word can't? Why is this?

2

Can't is widely considered an abbreviated form of 'cannot', and 'cannot you tell?' is a grammatical expression.

Most contractions represent the joining of two words. “Can’t” is an exception however. Following the rules that apply to most contractions, you probably find yourself tempted to replace “can’t” with “can not.” However, when replacing “can’t,” use “cannot.”

Cannot or can not (Writing Guides)

Both cannot and can not are acceptable spellings, but the first is much more usual. You would use can not when the ‘not’ forms part of another construction such as ‘not only’. For example:

These green industries can not only create more jobs, but also promote sustainable development of the land.

Cannot or can not (Oxford)

| improve this answer | |
  • 'Cannot you tell' is so unusual nowadays that I think a modern example is required. If nowadays its acceptability is considered dubious, this should be pointed out, and historical examples given. Though FF's answer in a previous thread may anticipate this. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 29 '18 at 7:32
-1

"...can't you tell?" is valid usage.

It would be understood as a contraction representing

"... can you not tell?"

even though the "n't" for "not" is moved left of the word "you" to join the word "can".

| improve this answer | |
  • OP is asking why 'Can you not tell' may be, and is usually, rendered 'Can't you tell?' They have already answered "[I]s 'Babies love skin on skin – can't you tell?' a valid usage of the word can't?", which would be off-topic on ELU anyway. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 29 '18 at 7:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.