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Language: Old English
Origin: butan 'outside, without, except'

but

1 conjunction
     
but1 S1 W1
1 used to connect two statements or phrases when the second one adds something different or seems surprising after the first one:
It's an old car, but it's very reliable.
They rushed to the hospital, but they were too late.
We've invited the boss, but she may decide not to come.
an expensive but extremely useful book
'Has he got any experience?' 'No, but he's keen to learn.'
2 used to introduce a statement that explains why the thing you have mentioned did not happen or is not possible:
I'd like to go but I'm too busy.
They would have married sooner, but they had to wait for her divorce.
3 used after a negative to emphasize that it is the second part of the sentence that is true:
He lied to the court not just once, but on several occasions.
The purpose of the scheme is not to help the employers but to provide work for young people.
4 except:
What can we do but sit and wait?
I had no choice but to accept the challenge.
Not a day goes by but I think of dear old Larry (=I think of him every day).
5

but for

a) used when you are saying that something would have happened if something or someone else had not prevented it:
But for these interruptions, the meeting would have finished earlier.
The score could have been higher but for some excellent goalkeeping by Simon.
I might never have got to university but for you.
b) except for something or someone:
All was silent but for the sound of the wind in the trees.
6

but then (again)

spoken
a) used when you are adding a statement that says almost the opposite of what you have just said:
John might be ready to help us, but then again, he might not.
You feel really sorry for him. But then again, it's hard to like him.
b) used when you are adding a statement that makes what you have just said seem less surprising:
Dinah missed the last rehearsal, but then she always was unreliable, wasn't she?
7XX spoken used when you are replying to someone and expressing strong feelings such as anger, surprise etc:
But that's marvellous news!
'They won't even discuss the problem.' 'But how stupid!'
8

somebody cannot but do something

formal used to say that someone has to do something or cannot stop themselves from doing it:
I could not but admire her.
9 spoken used when disagreeing with someone:
'It was a good idea.' 'But it didn't work.'
10 spoken used to emphasize a word or statement:
It'll be a great party - everyone, but everyone, is coming.
They're rich, but I mean rich.
11 spoken used to change the subject of a conversation:
But now to the main question.
But tell me, are you really planning to retire?
12 spoken used after expressions such as 'excuse me' and 'I'm sorry':
Excuse me, but I'm afraid this is a no-smoking area.

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