Hello lovely students! Do you say the word but a lot when you are speaking English? And are you tired of it? Well, you may not be the only one. The word but is one of the most overused words in the English language. Read alternatives to the short, three-letter word below.
What is but and where did it come from?
The etymology of but, stems from the old English word butan, which dates back to before the 12th century. In Middle English, the word had three three labels: buten, boute and bouten (make sure you do not use these). Soon after, it turned into but.
There are three key ways you can use but; as a conjunction (the most common use), as a preposition and lastly as an adverb.
Are you ready to get started? Let’s go.
But as a conjunction
As mentioned before, this is the most common use of but. Here but functions as a contrasting conjunction – that is a conjunction used to connect ideas and arguments that contrast. It has a lot of different synonyms. Each synonym can be used in a slightly different way in a phrase. However, they still have the same meaning.
Look at this table of the synonyms for but, example phrases, and where to put them in a sentence.
|however||I like Sarah; however, I like Steve more.|
I like Sarah. However, I like Steve more.
|We can use however after the comma of a first clause or at the beginning of a sentence if the first clause ends in a full stop.|
|yet||Every week she says she will hand in her notice, yet she never does.||Put in after the comma of the first clause.|
|nevertheless||The writing test was difficult; nevertheless, I got high marks.|
The writing test was difficult. Nevertheless, I got high marks
|The same rule as however applies here.|
|even so||The statement made in the speech was contrary to everything previously talked about. Even so, the client liked it.||Put even so after the full stop of the first clause.|
|all the same||I felt like an exception. All the same, no one said anything bad.||Put all the same after the full stop of the first clause.|
|notwithstanding||I didn’t like the nasty posts about me on social media. Notwithstanding, I kept calm.||Put notwithstanding after the full stop of the first clause.|
|except||Everyone spoke American English, except me.||Put except after the comma of the first clause.|
Exceptions to using but as a conjunction
Of course there are exceptions to this. It is English after all! Let’s take a closer look.
1) Even so and all the same
In spoken English, we tend to use these phrases with the word we are trying to avoid: but.
The formula looks like this: first clause + but + even so/all the same + rest of second clause.
Why do we do it? We insert ‘but’ here for further exaggeration of contrast. Take a look at the example sentences.
I felt like an exception, but all the same, no one said anything bad.
The statement made in the speech was contrary to everything previously talked about, but even so, the client liked it.
These two sentences make complete sense and have the same significance as the sentences above where all the same and even so are separated from the first clause by a full stop.
Notwithstanding is rarely used in spoken English anymore and is quite an old term. If you’re looking to improve your writing skills, however, this is a great conjunction to use.
Usually except is used after the comma concluding the first clause. Nevertheless, we can change this by simply adding the word for before an object pronoun.
The formula is this: except for + me/him/her/them/you/us, + second clause.
Except for me, everyone spoke American English.
Please note, when using this structure, ‘except for me’ is synonymous with apart from.
Apart from me, everyone spoke American English.
Take 5: look through this table again and the exceptions to really grasp the meaning. A good way to do this is to copy the table.
But as a preposition
But isn’t only used as a conjunction. It is also used as a preposition. You’ll be pleased to know, however, that the rules on positioning but as a preposition in a sentence are a lot easier than if you use it as a conjunction.
There are two ways you can do this.
1) First clause, + synonym for but + rest of second clause.
2) Synonym for but + rest of first clause + second clause.
This rule applies to all of them and there are no exceptions.
|bar||The university library is closed to all after 10pm, bar teaching staff.|
Bar teaching staff, The university library is closed to all after 10pm.
|save||Everyone had to write, save for Lucas, who had to accept he was out of the writing competition.|
Save for Lucas, who had to accept he was out of the writing competition, everyone had to write.
|other than||The cousins in the Green family were tall, other than Peter who was short.|
Other than Peter who was short, the cousins in the Green family were tall.
|with the exception of||Everyone was playing a game, with the exception of Dave. |
With the exception of Dave, everyone was playing a game.
|excluding||They were an alternative group of people, excluding Hannah. |
Excluding Hannah, they were an alternative bunch of people.
But as an adverb
Last, but definitely not least, we have our section on but as an adverb.
Similar to but as a preposition, the sentence structure for this is very easy to remember. It goes something like this: subject + verb to be + synonym for but + rest of clause.
|only||She is only a baby and far too young to understand these things.|
|just||All that noise was just a raccoon in the bins.|
|merely||I was merely joking.|
|simply||The fact is simply there to help you.|
You may be wondering, why do we not use but instead? It is a lot more simple to learn.
The reason is that if we put but into one of these sentences, it makes us sound like we are speaking very old English, say from the 18th century. Take the example used in the simply row.
The fact is simply there to help you.
If we changed this to but, it would become; The fact is but there to help you.
Now, I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound correct, even though it is. It is because the English language is evolving and putting but as an adverb is becoming rarer. Also, as we said before, it does sound old. We don’t all speak like we are in a Jane Austen novel, you know!
Take 5: go over these tables with someone you know. Get them to test you on a section (conjunction, preposition, or adverb). They should ask you for the synonyms, an example and the position. A good way to remember this is by using the term S.E.P (synonym, example, position).
What did you think?
We hope you learnt a lot about one of the most commonly used words in English and that you can now think of other words for but. If you can think of any more examples, please put them in the comments below.
Is that everything?
Absolutely not! For more engaging, English content check out my YouTube channel English with Lucy.