- 1. conjunction
he stumbled but didn't fallSyn:yet, nevertheless, nonetheless, even so, however, still, notwithstanding, despite that, in spite of that, for all that, all the same, just the same; though, although2)
this one's expensive, but this one isn'tSyn:whereas, conversely, but then, then again, on the other hand, by/in contrast, on the contrary2. preposition
everyone but himSyn:except (for), apart from, other than, besides, aside from, with the exception of, bar, excepting, excluding, leaving out, save (for), saving3. adverb
he is but a shadow of his former self- but forSyn:only, just, simply, merely, no more than, nothing but; a mere••butIt is a gross canard that beginning a sentence with but is stylistically slipshod. In fact, doing so is highly desirable in any number of contexts, as many stylebooks have said (many correctly pointing out that but is more effective than however at the beginning of a sentence) — e.g.:• "The group of Adversative conjunctions represented by BUT (called Arrestive) very often fulfil [sic] the office of relating consecutive sentences… . An entire paragraph is not unfrequently devoted to arresting or preventing a seeming inference from one preceding, and is therefore appropriately opened by But, Still, Nevertheless, &c." (Alexander Bain, English Composition and Rhetoric, 4th ed.; 1877.)• "But (not followed by a comma) always heads its turning sentence; Nevertheless usually does (followed by a comma). I am sure, however, that however is always better buried in the sentence between commas; But is for the quick turn; the inlaid however for the more elegant sweep." (Sheridan Baker, The Practical Stylist;1962.)• "Of the many myths concerning ‘correct’ English, one of the most persistent is the belief that it is somehow improper to begin a sentence with and, but, for, or, or nor. The construction is, of course, widely used today and has been widely used for generations, for the very good reason that it is an effective means of achieving coherence between sentences and between larger units of discourse, such as paragraphs." (R. W. Pence and D. W. Emery, A Grammar of Present-Day English, 2d ed.; 1963.)• "I can't overstate how much easier it is for readers to process a sentence if you start with but when you’re shifting direction." (William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 6th ed.; 1998.)• "If you want to begin a sentence by contradicting the last, use but instead of however." (Christopher Lasch, Plain Style; 2002.)Good writers often begin sentences with but and have always done so. Samples from twentieth- and twenty-first-century writers follow:• "But such simplicity of instinct is scarcely possible for human beings." (Bertrand Russell, Education and the Good Life; 1926.)• "But it must not be assumed that intelligent thinking can play no part in the formation of the goal and of ethical judgments." (Albert Einstein, "Science and Religion" (1939), in Ideas and Opinions; 1954.)• "But he had got used to that and it did not disquiet him." (Ursula K. Le Guin, The Other Wind; 2001.)These are not good writers on bad days. No: they were having good days. In 1963, researcher Francis Christensen found that 8.75% of the sentences in the work of first-rate writers — including H. L. Mencken, Lionel Trilling, and Edmund Wilson — began with coordinating conjunctions (i.e., and and but). In The New York Times (front page during the 1990s) and U.S. News & World Report (in 1997), the figure is about the same. To the professional rhetorician, these figures aren't at all surprising.All this enthusiasm for the construction, though, needs to be tempered to this extent: don't start consecutive sentences with but. Also, putting this subordinating conjunction twice in one sentence invariably makes the sentence unwieldy and less easy to read — e.g.: "But this opening misleads because the focus dissipates as the play progresses and the scattershot climax drips with sentiment but is ultimately unsatisfying." (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Oct. 10, 1997.) (A possible revision: "But this opening misleads because the focus dissipates as the play progresses. Although the scattershot climax drips with sentiment, it's ultimately unsatisfying.")The surprisingly common misuse of but for and often betrays the writer's idiosyncratic prejudice. That is, if you write that someone is "attractive but smart," you’re suggesting that this combination of characteristics is atypical — e.g.: "Billy's father … is a man of sterling rectitude, poor but honest [read poor and honest], determined to pass his upcoming naturalization exams." (Chicago Tribune; Oct. 24, 1997.) Is the writer really suggesting that poor people are typically dishonest?The use of but in a negative sense after a pronoun has long caused confusion. Is it "No one but she" or "No one but her"? When but is a preposition (meaning "except"), the objective her (or him) follows. But when but is a conjunction, the nominative she (or he) is proper. The correct form depends on the structure of the sentence. If the verb precedes the but phrase, the objective case should be used: "None of the defendants were convicted but him." But if the but phrase precedes the verb, the nominative case is proper: "None of the defendants but he were convicted." That sentence is considered equivalent to "None of the defendants were convicted, but he was convicted." (Although that rewording doesn't seem to make literal sense — given that he was one of the defendants — it serves to show the grammar of the sentence excepting him from the absolute word none.) But thus acts as a conjunction when it precedes the verb in a sentence, as in this one from Thomas Jefferson: "Nobody but we of the craft can understand the diction, and find out what [the statute] means." Here the subject of can understand is nobody, and the but heads the understood clause: "nobody can understand, but we can understand."The logic here is based on syntax: the native English speaker instinctively rejects as alien-sounding the constructions me know in "No one but you and I know what is on these notice boards" and him knew in "No one but he knew what this had cost him." — BG
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