In one of my posts (Are "passive participle" and " Passive voice" the same in Modern English?), I said

I can't see the difference between ex_1 and ex_2.

Actually, I am not sure whether I used the right preposition. Another option could be "I don't"

I don't see the difference between ex_1 and ex_2.

Both "can't see the difference" and "don't see the difference" have some hits on ELL. I guess both of them are interchangeable in any situations.

Google Ngram also verifies this.

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Is my understanding right?

  • In many contexts they're interchangeable. Not because they actually "mean" the same thing, but simply because native Anglophones don't normally care that much about hypothetical differences that don't actually matter in the specific context. But obviously in some contexts, I can't see the point invites whoever you're talking to to explain that point you can't see. Where if you said instead I don't see the point, that would be you telling them what you think (which you're not planning to change), rather than you pleading ignorance / inability to see things clearly. Feb 11, 2021 at 18:32
  • (That's to say - the literal definitions from a dictionary should be all you need here, given you can easily see that people do use both versions.) Feb 11, 2021 at 18:34

2 Answers 2


Yes, your understanding is correct. "Don't see the difference" denotes you present state of not seeing, while "can't see the difference" denotes your inability to see.
In practice, they are interchangeable.

By the way, "can't" and "don't" are contractions of verbs with the word "not" ("can not" and "do not"). They aren't prepositions, that is, words like in, on, over, under, between etc.



  • Don´t you see - means by your brain
  • Can´t you see - means by your eyes

So there is a slightly different meaning.

  • I think that don't you see and can't you see can both mean "by your brain", or in other words: "Don't you understand?" or "Please, understand!" Feb 11, 2021 at 12:11

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