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But /meaning

Forum > English only || Bottom

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But /meaning
Message from tatu posted on 03-06-2012 at 13:17:04 (D | E | F)

I would like to ask you about grammar in this sentence:
"For three years, they all but starve as they struggled to survive"
I don't know whether there is "but" or not in this sentence. If yes, what does that mean please?
Thank you in advance

Edited by lucile83 on 03-06-2012 14:05

Re: But /meaning from dolfine56, posted on 03-06-2012 at 14:21:51 (D | E)

Ifound a translation for "all but":" quasiment"
all but adv : (almost completely) quasiment adv
You've all but polished off that cake.
Vous avez quasiment terminé le gâteau..
maybe one answer?

Re: But /meaning from notrepere, posted on 03-06-2012 at 15:39:29 (D | E)

Yes, "all but" means "almost completely". If you take "but" out, then the meaning would be quite different. The verb 'starve' should be in past tense.

Re: But /meaning from gerondif, posted on 03-06-2012 at 18:57:14 (D | E)
1) "but" has a special meaning, "except" (but see below as meaning number 2 is much more appropriate)

Everybody but Paul agreed: everybody expect Paul agreed.

I can do nothing else but agree: I have no other solution except to agree.
I couldn't but agree: I had no other solution except to agree. I had no choice but to agree.

For three years, they all but starved as they struggled to survive.
For three years, they did nothing else except starve to death as they struggled to survive.

2) However, notrepère's and Dolphine's researches make sense, "almost" fits your sentence.

in the dictionary on line:
all but: adv (almost completely) "quasiment" in French

I should have read further down !!

Well,you know both meanings now !

Come to think of it, there can be a difference between "almost" and "nearly":

For three years, they almost starved as they struggled to survive.
For three years, they nearly starved as they struggled to survive.
Both would go here , I suppose.

Here is the difference that sometimes comes up:

I almost got the loto numbers right !! You regret not getting them right. You are sorry you failed.

I nearly killed him when I backed up into the garage! You are happy you didn't do it, You are happy you didn't kill him. You are happy you failed.

Re: But /meaning from violet91, posted on 03-06-2012 at 20:44:40 (D | E)


Have you ever heard this by Marilyn Monroe ?

.....' I want to be kissed by you, nobody else but you !'

Re: But /meaning from notrepere, posted on 03-06-2012 at 21:16:45 (D | E)


There are two meanings for "all but": 1) almost 2) all except. In this example, the meaning is the first. In Violet's example, it is the second. Here are some other examples to illustrate:
Mendel’s research was all but forgotten. (Mendel's research was almost forgotton.) (Macmillan)

1 almost
The party was all but over when we arrived.
It was all but impossible to read his writing. (Oxford)

2 everything or everyone except something/somebody
All but one of the plates were damaged. (Oxford)

So, in this case, the sentence could read: For three years, they almost starved ...
The other meaning would be: For three years, they all except starved... which of course doesn't make any sense.

Re: But /meaning from traviskidd, posted on 04-06-2012 at 12:34:37 (D | E)

It is this sense of "but" (namely "except") that most directly translates the "que" in "ne ... que".

I'm sorry I can't share this milkshake with you; there isn't but one straw!
I'm sorry; I couldn't (help) but overhear your conversation.

In formal and literary language, "but" can be used without "not" (and hence means "only").

I could but watch helplessly as the love of my life waltzed into the sunset with her new beau.
Warriors are many; soldiers, alas, are but few.

The first sense of "all but" noted above more literally means "everything less than", including everything barely less than.

They all but starved. = They suffered every consequence of not eating that could be suffered except for starvation. What they suffered was so bad that the only way it could have been worse is if they had actually starved.

Of course the term is rarely used quite this literally, but I think the literal sense is useful even for more precisely understanding what it means figuratively.

See you.

Re: But /meaning from willy, posted on 04-06-2012 at 18:13:03 (D | E)

"A poet could not but be gay in such a jocund company" (W.Wordsworth)

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