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But not / Except

Stating an exception

Picky eater
 

 

But not vs. Except

BUT

But not is used to exclude something after stating a generalization, using words such as all, every, everything, everybody, etc. (Negative words such as no, any, nothing, nobody are used with except.)

BEFORE A NOUN

He likes vegetables but not carrots.

Everyone in our family likes vegetables but not himobject pronoun

*Nobody eats liver² but not Teresa.  Avoid a double negative.

Everyone avoids liver but not Teresa.  Rephrase the verb.
 

BEFORE A PREPOSITION, CONJUNCTION OR CLAUSE

He usually eats sweets but not when someone is looking.

Everyone in our family likes coffee but not at night.

We have a sugary treat everyday but not during Lent¹.

He eats honey but not as a sweetener (in something else). 

*Teresa likes candy but not that she can't eat it because of her diabetes. (that-clause)
Teresa likes candy, but she can't eat it because of her diabetes.   

EXCEPT

Except also expresses exclusion after making a generalization.  Before a noun or a noun phrase for may be omitted. An object pronoun (him, her, them, us,me) is used after except for.

BEFORE A NOUN

He likes vegetables except (for) carrots.

Everyone in our family likes vegetables except (for) him.  object pronoun

Nobody eats liver except (for) Teresa.    

Everyone avoids liver except (for) Teresa.

BEFORE A PREPOSITION, CONJUNCTION OR CLAUSE

He usually eats sweets except when someone is looking.  He often eats sweets. 

Everyone in our family likes coffee except at night.  They drink it day time

We have a sugary treat everyday except during Lent.

He eats honey except as a sweetener (in something else). 

Teresa likes candy except that she can't eat it because of her diabetes.  

 

¹Lent (n.) – a period before Easter when Western Christians give up eating a favorite food
²liver (n.) – an organ in an animal that cleans blood
*Yellow highlighted words are examples of incorrect usage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But / Except

Before "Do" or Verb + Preposition Phrases

 

 

 

DO

After do/does/did [everything / nothing / anything] except, a bare infinitive is used (but not after progressive "do").   

DO NOTHING BUT + BARE INFINIITE

Jack does nothing all day

except [to] run and play

but [to] run and play. 

Jack doesn't do anything

except [to] have a good time.

but [to] have a good time.

Jack did everything

 

except [to] finish his homework.

but [to] finish his homework.

Jack is doing everything

    (progressive)

 

except finishing his homwork.

but finishing his home work.

VERB + PPREP PHRASES

After a verb and preposition phrase [everything / nothing / anything] + except, a gerund is used.

VERB + PREP BUT + GERUND

Jack is interested in nothing

except running and playing.

but t running and playing. 

Jack doesn't worry about anything

except having a good time!

but having a good time! 

Jack looks forward to everything

except finishing his homework.

but finishing his homework.

Jack engages in everything

except finishing his homwork.

but finishing his home work.

 

bare infinitive — an infinitive in which "to" is not included.

engage in (verbal phrase) — occupy the attention or efforts of person; occupy oneself

Verb + Prep Phrase— see Participial Adj & Prep and Verbs Paired w/ Prepositons Before Gerunds.

 

 

 

 

 

But

Expressions

 

 

Nothing but / All but

NOTHING BUT

Nothing but is an expression meaning "only".  It emphasizes the noun after it. 

hamburgersJack eats nothing but hamburgers. only hamburgers, lots of them 

There was nothing but sugar in the "energy bar".  only sugar, lots of it

He was nothing but trouble.  only trouble, lots of it  

ALL BUT

 All but expresses an exception or only this is left. (one, two or little); also very nearly.

hamburgerHe ate all but one hamburger.  except
 

They sold all but two energy bars.  except

The food is all but finished.  adverb of degree – very nearly

Eating this seems all but impossible. adverb of degree – very nearly

 

 

 

 

If not for / But for

IF NOT FOR

If not for expresses the idea of "if something had not existed/happened"

If not for traffic, I would have been home an hour ago.

If not for your help, I would never have finished on time.  

BUT FOR

But for expresses the idea of "if something had not existed/happened".

But for traffic, I would have been home an hour ago.

But for your help, I would never have finished on time.  

 

 

 

 

Who… but

BUT FOR

But for expresses the idea of "if something had not existed/happened".

I was walking down the street, and unexpectedly I saw Jack. 

I looked down the street, and luckily I found a parking space!    
 

WHO…BUT

Who / What should...but  is used to express surprise at a chance meeting or finding.

I was walking down the street, and who should I see but Jack.  a chance meeting

I looked down the street, and what should I find but a parking space!   a lucky find

 

 

 

 

Cannot… but

CANNOT HELP + VERB-ING

A gerund is used after can't help.   Can't help means cannot avoid or cannot stop from doing.

We can't help admiring his courage.

Jack can't help drinking.

.

CANNOT BUT + VERB

Cannot but expresses the idea of "we can do nothing except ..." (formal).  The expression cannot help but is a combination of can't help and cannot but. It is informal.

We admire his courage very much.    

We cannot but admire his courage.  very formal

We cannot help but admire his courage.  very informal  (Omit help.)

We saw clearly that he was drunk.   

We could not but see that he was drunk. 

We couldn't help but see he was drunk.  (Omit help.)

 

"A lot has been written about these phrases.  To put as charitable a light on the matter as possible, most of what you may read is out of date.  We have hundreds of citations for these phrases, and we can tell you two things for certain: these phrases all mean the same thing — "to be unable to do otherwise than" — and they are all standard."   (Merriam Webster 220)

"cannot but, cannot help, cannot help but" (MWEEU)
"can't help" (Swan 116.3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

*Bill Clinton is committed to a plant-based diet except for he eats an occasional fish.

*I would have failed except for your help. 

What else have you done today?

*Except going to school, I did my homework, went to football practice,  cooked dinner and watched TV.

SOLUTION

Bill Clinton is committed to a plant-based diet except for eating an occasional fish dish.  (some fish occasionally.)
Bill Clinton is committed to a plant-based diet except for an occasional fish dish.
Bill Clinton is committed to a plant-based diet except that he eats an occasional fish dish. (he occasionally eats some fish.) 

Nobody helped me except (for) you.
I would have failed without your help.   (Use without. Except is for excluding one thing from a generalization.)

Besides going to school, I did my homework…

Not including going to school, I did my homework…

Other than going to school, I did my homework…

 

pop question itemSee Pop-Q "Except for"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Dietary Choices

vegetables

 

Complete the sentence with an exception or generalization.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.

 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.
Jack does everything to lose weight except the calories he eats.

calories (n.) –  a unit for measuring the amount of energy food will produce

8.
After a week of dieting, Jill is excited about everything but  more smoothies.

smoothie (n.) –  a drink or meal made by putting fruit in a blender

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Expressions for exceptions

energy bars
 

Complete the sentence with an exception expression.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.

 

9.

10.
two ingredients were a form of sugar.


an ingredient (n.) –  food that is included in making other food

11.
I read the wrapper and what should I see   twenty different types of sugar products.


a wrapper (n.) –  a paper or plastic cover around a food product

12.
a few peanuts, the bar was mostly cereal.


cereal (n.) –  grain, for example wheat, rice, corn, etc

13.
A person cannot   why these bars are not simply called "candy bars".

14.
Advertising is   packaging.


packaging (n.) –  putting a product in an attractive wrapper or box; presenting an attractive image