LINGUIST List 7.1618

Sat Nov 16 1996

Disc: BUT

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Raphael Salkie, ALL BUT

Message 1: ALL BUT

Date: Tue, 12 Nov 1996 14:30:59 GMT
From: Raphael Salkie <>
Subject: ALL BUT

The ALL BUT construction

	In his message on the Linguist List (Vol 7-1559, 11 Nov 96),
Enzo Di Giulio asked for information about the meaning of ALL BUT.
One interesting question is whether this is a separate sense of BUT in
English, or whether it is the same BUT that is more commonly used as a
conjunction. The following thoughts might also be of interest because
they show how translation data bring out generalisations about English
that might not be so apparent in monolingual data. I'd be grateful for
any comments.
	I am in the middle of a contrastive study of BUT in English
versus MAIS in French, using a parallel (translation) corpus, the
INTERSECT corpus. The data throw up some intriguing questions.
(Accents are omitted from the French examples to make life simpler).

ALL BUT: data

	The ALL BUT construction was rare in the corpus, with only
five examples.In three cases, the translation was TOUT...SAUF:

(1) On the subject of the assets of the DISK organisation and its
affiliates, the Committee has taken note of the detailed information
furnished by the Government and in particular of the disclosure
therein of substantial increases in the total value of the liquid
assets of ALL BUT one of these.

(2) :: En ce qui concerne les biens et avoirs de la DISK et de ses
affiliees, le comite prend note des renseignements detailles fournis
par le gouvernement, et en particulier du fait que la valeur des
avoirs liquides de TOUTES ces organisations a sensiblement augmente,
SAUF pour l'une d'entre elles.

(3) For ALL BUT the largest images, you can specify Portrait

(4) :: Vous pouvez preciser l'orientation Portrait (a la francaise)
pour TOUTES les images, SAUF les plus grandes.

(5) For ALL BUT very large pages, you can specify Portrait

(6)	:: Vous pouvez preciser une orientation Portrait (a la francaise)
pour TOUTES les pages, SAUF les plus grandes.
	It would appear from these examples that BUT in ALL BUT has
the sense of "except". Some dictionaries (the Concise Oxford, for
example) classify this BUT as a preposition, so the distinct sense of
BUT would have a different word class from the conjunction as well as
a different sense.
	There were also, however, two examples where ALL BUT has the
sense of "nearly". In the first case, the translation was

(7) The value of Canada paper money plummeted. From 1759 on, British
troops were also paid in specie, and paper money became ALL BUT

(8) :: La valeur du papier-monnaie en usage au Canada a degringole. A
partir de 1759, les troupes britanniques etaient elles aussi payees en
espces; le papier-monnaie a PRATIQUEMENT perdu TOUTE valeur.
	In the second instance the translation does not attempt to
render ALL BUT (unless you argue that the SE VOIR construction makes
the impossibility slightly less certain and thus renders the sense of

(9) I raised that question because of the way in which prices are
soaring. Many small construction firms are finding it ALL BUT
impossible to continue in business. 

(10) :: J'ai pose cette question en raison de la hausse acceleree des
prix. De nombreuses petites entreprises de construction se voient dans
l'impossibilite de rester en affaires.
	It is hard to argue that BUT is a preposition in (7) and (9).
There is also an argument that BUT is not a preposition in the earlier
examples. Normally a verb placed after a preposition in English must
be in the gerund:

(11) without paying, before signing, she insisted on leaving.
	The only exceptions are EXCEPT and BUT which take the bare
infinitive (Thomson & Martinet 1986: 104):

(12)	 I could do nothing but agree.
	As well as occurring after universal quantifiers like ALL,
this sense of BUT is found after negative expressions. In all six
corpus examples, the French used NE..QUE:

(13) The Government states that it had no option BUT to reject the
call as it was in fact an accusation.

(14) :: Le gouvernement souligne qu'il ne peut que rejeter cet appel
etant donne qu'il constitute une accusation.

(15) She wishes to reiterate that [...] transit or other facilities
that depended on the will of a foreign state were nothing BUT
expedients that masked the absence of a true solution to the problem.

(16) :: Elle tient a reiterer que [...] des facilites de transit ou
autres subordonnees a la volonte d'un etat etranger ne sont en fait
que des expedients masquant l'absence d'une veritable solution du

(17) Those controls have had nothing BUT negative results wherever
they wre tried out.

(18) :: Ces mesures de controle n'ont eu que des effets negatifs
partout ou on en a fait essai.

(19) [...] if the appropriate steps are followed the government has no
alternative BUT to set up an agency in any way they desire.

(20) :: [...] si on suit les mesures appropriees, le gouvernement n'a
d'autre choix que de creer un organisme de la facon dont il entend.

(21) As Minister of State for Urban affairs, if I do nothing else BUT
succeed in passing this legislation through this house, [...] I will
be very happy and proud of that.

(22) :: A titre de ministre d'etat charge des affaires urbaines, si je
ne reussissais qu'a faire adopter ce bill, [...] je serais tres
heureux et fier de cette realisation.

(23) [We need] a separate panel of the commission to deal with nothing
else BUT the application and implementation of this legislation.

(24) :: [Nous avons besoin d'] une section distincte de la commission
chargee de rien d'autre que de l'application et de la mise en oeuvre
de cette mesure legislative.
		Other types of example
	As well as these neg+BUT examples, there were two other types
which are possibly relevant. The first type is CAN'T HELP BUT:

(25) The collective punishments [...] COULD NOT HELP BUT seriously
disturb the daily life of the Palestinian population.

(26) :: Les chatiments collectifs [...] ne peuvent que perturber
gravement la vie quotidienne des populations palestiniennes.

(27) Mr. Hamadziripi (Zimbabwe) said that [...] the situation [...]
was not consistent with the recommendations of CPC, and his delegation
COULD therefore NOT HELP BUT be concerned.

(28) :: M. Hamadziripi1 (Zimbabwe) note que [...] la situation [...]
		n'est pas conformed aux recommandations du CPC, ce qui
ne manque pas d'inquieter la delegation de Zimbabwe. The second type
has BUT on its own in the sense of "only":

(29) ... the Bill [...] reflects but one element of many in our
Canadian Citizenship act ...

(30) :: ... le Bill [...] ne represente qu'un des nombreux elements de
la loi sur la citoyennete canadienne ...

(31) These, then are but a few examples involving Air Canada and
safety at Dorval.

(32) :: Ce ne sont la que quelques exemples concernant Air Canada et
la securite a Dorval.
	Three of these examples (25-6), (29-30) and (31-31) use NE
... QUE just like the translations of the neg + BUT examples (13-24).
This suggests that a key element in all these uses of BUT is something
like "excluding some options and limiting attention to others". But
if that is correct, then this sounds very close to the mainstream uses
of conjunction BUT discussed, for instance, in Blakemore (1989):

	 Rejection of expectation BUT:

(33)	John is a Republican, but he is honest
	 Contrast BUT :

(34)	John is not a Republican, but a Democrat
	The question then arises why French MAIS can be used to
translate BUT in (33) and (34) but not in the other examples presented
	Finally, a mention of the BUT FOR construction, which
(annoyingly) didn't occur in the translation corpus, but for which
there are some examples from a newspaper on CD:

(35) From then on Arsenal seemed able to break Wimbledon down
effortlessly, and BUT FOR profligate finishing might have got more

(36) London s FT-SE 100 index plunged 48.5 points and New York
followed suit with a drop of 52, which could have been greater BUT FOR
the intervention of Wall Street s crash-saving circuit breakers.

(37) Duncan... said he would love it BUT FOR the fact that he was
prevented by a bye-law. [12 to 14 are from The Independent]


Blakemore, D. 1989. Denial and contrast: a relevance-theoretic
analysis of BUT. Linguistics & Philosophy 12: 15-37.

Dascal, M. & T. Katriel. 1977. Between semantics and pragmatics: the
two types of BUT - Hebrew aval and ela . Theoretical Linguistics 4:

Souesme, J.-C. 1994. BUT, marqueur de passage de frontiere et ses
traductions en francais. In. M. Ballard (ed.), Relations discursives
et traduction, Lille, Presses Universitaires de Lille, pp. 157-186.

Thomson, A. & A. Martinet. 1986. A practical English grammar (4th
edn). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Raphael Salkie, Tel: (+44) 01273 643335
The Language Centre, Tel: (+44) 01273 643337
University of Brighton Tel: (+44) 01273 600900
Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9PH
Fax: (+44) 01273 690710
*** INTERSECT Web page:
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue