1. If government can not control the soaring prices, many companies will go bankrupt.
  1. If government cannot control the soaring prices, many companies will go bankrupt.
  1. If government fails to control the soaring prices, many companies will go bankrupt.

Are these sentences equivalent? If they are not, please explain their meanings and differences. Is there any preference for using each one?

  • 1
    The first two (and the same but with contracted can't) are equivalent and interchangeable. For most purposes the third alternative is also equivalent, except it does admit of the rather more cynical interpretation that although government is able to control inflation, they might choose not to do so for some reason. You can establish this for yourself by considering dictionary definitions for fail [to do something and can [be able to]. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 17:01
  • See also can not or cannot and Appropriate usage of "can't" and "cannot", among others. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 17:06
  • G7 has agreed on a price limit for Russian oil after gas line stopped to Germany Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 17:28
  • @TonyStewartEE75 These are just some random sentences but thanks for informing.
    – alireza
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 17:31

1 Answer 1


There is no difference in meaning between “can not” and “cannot.” Both mean that government lacks the capacity to control prices.

They differ in meaning from “fails to,” which strictly means that the government does not control prices. It frequently (but not always) implies that the government has the capacity but does not use it. That is, there often is a critical note in the use of “fail to.” There is no blame for not doing what you simply are not able to do, but there may be blame for not doing what you certainly are able to do.

  • Of course, it is an open question to what extent any government is able to 'control' inflation, and it is often the case that a government may claim to have done so, and the opposition (in countries that allow them) may then say that they could or would have done better. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 17:51
  • I have this preconception that when someone fails to do something, they wanted to be successful and have made some attempts to tackle the problem but despite their willingness to do that, they could not do that. Based on your answer this idea about "fail" is not correct. Is my preconception wrong?
    – alireza
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 18:56
  • @alireza I am sure that competent speakers use “fail to” to mean “try unsuccessfully.” I think it is a more subtle use of English to use “try” or “attempt” to indicate an unsuccessful effort to perform and use “fail” to indicate merely a lack of performance. The exception to this is something like “Despite their best efforts, they failed to …” That is, “fail” accompanied by a description of effort means what you have thought, but I would not use “fail” by itself to imply “attempt.” This is a subtle point of usage; others may differ. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 20:08
  • @JeffMorrow - I think that often an attempt is the process and a failure is the outcome. Furthermore, 'failure' can be an opinion, e.g. this government has failed to control inflation, or my neighbour failed to show respect by cycling during the Queen's funeral. Of course, sometimes it's a matter of fact - the bullet failed to hit the target, the swimmer failed to reach the other side of the river. Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 7:48

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