Forma Negativa: Cannot we x Can we not

Marcio_Farias 1 23 214
No similar topic on the forum. This one inquires as to the negative interrogative form of can. My grammar manual¹ gives the long form cannot as a one and indivisible (or solid) word mainly in negative interrogative questions, meaning we cannot--or perhaps should not--sandwich a pronoun between the can and the not.

"Cannot man, through scientific investigation, penetrate some of the secrets of nature?" :D
"Can man not...?" :cry: (BrE says no, you can't have man sandwiched in.)

Do you know of a grammar website that says yes, you can sandwich it or no, you cannot? Better yet, what does your grammar book say about it? Thank you. ;)

¹ Practical English Usage, by Michael Swan, 3rd Edition, p. 97, point # 121, item h.

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6 respostas
Donay Mendonça 22 103 1.5k
Hi Márcio,

Before turning to Google I immediately said "yes you can" to myself, as I really believe that everything is possible when it comes to word orders.Then,when I googled "can people not" there were about 64,000 occurrences...Just take a look: ... f&oq=&aqi=

Ex:Can people not fall in love...(Podem as pessoas não se apaixonarem...?)

:Oxford says you can use both "cannot" and can not"

Now, I think you can draw your own conclusions...

Good Luck!
Marcio_Farias 1 23 214
donay, thank you very much. Whenever using the long form cannot, I'll have the objects and subjects sandwiched in between the can and the not in the negative interrogative form from now on. ;)
mas e quanto a pergunta: "As pessoas não podem se apaixonar?"

Neste caso não podemos ter "sandwich", certo?

Ficaria "Can not the people fall in love.... ?"
Donay Mendonça 22 103 1.5k
Olá Naseem,

Pensar primeiro em português não é bom,

Can people not fall in love...?(Podem as pessoas não se apaixonarem...?)

Can´t/cannot people fall in love...?(As pessoas não podem se apaixonar...?)
"Cannot people see that he is replicating the failures of the last Labour government before Thatcher took over in 1979." ... or_cameron

*O que quero dizer é que você vai encontrar inúmeras traduções para as mesmas estruturas,vai depender da pessoa e muito do contexto.

Boa sorte!
Actually, both forms are correct, but they don't have the same meaning, in some situations, thay can be opposite, for example:

Imagine the situation. A woman want their children to go to their grand parents', but they don't want to.They'll propably ask:
"Mom, can we not go to grandparents' house?"
so they are asking NOT to go

but if they wanted to, they would say:
"Mom, can't we go to grandparents' house"
in this case, the are asking to go

Translating, we have "nós poderíamos não ir..?" and "nós não poderíamos ir..?". In the first case, the adverb "not" is kind of part of the verb go; while in the second one, the auxiliar verb can is modified by the adverb "not". There can be other situations in which the difference meaning is not that easy to understand, but that it the main idea, you have to know what the adverb is modifying.

It was what I wanted to say, Sergio!