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Can’t vs cant

Can’t and cant are pronounced in the same way and almost spelled the same way, but the meanings are very different. We will discuss the meaning of can’t and cant, their origins and look at a few examples used in sentences.

Can’t means cannot. Can’t is a contraction, which is two words that are combined by eliminating a vowel and replacing it with an apostrophe. Contractions have been used in English since the fifth century, when Saxons and Angles brought them into the language. Can’t is a more informal way to say cannot, it is acceptable in most situations. Do not use contractions in scholarly, academic and formal business writing.


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The word cant has several meanings. First, cant might mean hypocritically pious talk, sanctimonious or self-serving talk. Cant may also mean a phrase or word that has been used so much that the meaning has gone out of it. Cant might mean speech that is delivered in a sing-song manner, or the particular vocabulary used by a certain group. Cant might also mean a tilt, a slope, something slanted. Cant is used as a noun, verb and adjective, related words are cants, canted, canting, canter, cantingly. Cant comes from the Old French word canter, meaning to sing.

Examples

If your parents can’t afford to retire, giving them money won’t help (USA Today)

The rest of that night was a blur, but Burton said she can’t forget the number of people who came together to make sure the four children were safe. (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Pictures of the launch site after the explosion showed the top portion of a launchpad tower, which is used to raise the rocket and support it vertically, had canted over. (The Gazette)

In the House of Commons, the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, canted about “taking murder by the throat” while in Ireland his lisenced terrorists went around the country bullying, shooting and burning. (Workers’ Liberty)

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