Alternatives to the Word ‘But’ for Academic Writing
  • 3-minute read
  • 4th November 2015

Alternatives to the Word ‘But’ for Academic Writing

Anne might not be the most celebrated Brontë, but she was on to something in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, in which the titular tenant notes that ‘there is always a “but” in this imperfect world’.

The same is certainly true of academic writing, where the word ‘but’ is an essential (though sometimes overused) term for constructing grammatical sentences, particularly when comparing two points.

With short words like ‘but’, you shouldn’t worry too much about repetition. Nevertheless, sometimes an alternative (like ‘nevertheless’) can improve the flow of your prose, so herein we provide a few alternatives to the word ‘but’ that you can use in your written work.

Conjunctions

Conjunctions are words used to connect two parts of a sentence, such as ‘but’, ‘and’ and ‘because’. The term ‘but’ connects two parts of a sentence while also setting up a contrast (e.g. ‘It was delicious, but the texture was awful’). In these cases, ‘but’ can be substituted with one of the following:

  • Although (e.g. ‘I love dancing, although my feet hurt afterwards.’)
  • Though (e.g. ‘I haven’t slept in a week, though I hope tonight I can rest properly.’)
  • Yet (e.g. ‘It was terrible, yet I still want to go back and try again.’)

Adverbials

As well as conjunctions, you can link and contrast two ideas with an adverb or an adverbial phrase. Perhaps the most commonly used is ‘however’, so we will use this to illustrate how these words can substitute for ‘but’.

The key difference is that while conjunctions typically link two clauses in one sentence, adverbials like ‘however’ set up a contrast between two separate sentences:

Conjunction: I love dancing, but my feet hurt afterwards.

Adverbial: I love dancing. However, my feet hurt afterwards.

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As you can see, this can be handy when you want to begin a new sentence with a contrast. Having said this, the term ‘however’ can also appear mid-sentence or after a semicolon:

It was terrible. I still, however, want to go back.

It was terrible; however, I still want to go back.

Other adverbials that can be used to replace ‘but’ include:

  • Nonetheless (e.g. ‘I ran fast; nonetheless, the horse won the race.’)
  • Nevertheless (e.g. ‘It seemed like a mad idea. Nevertheless, it worked.’)
  • Despite this (e.g. ‘I prepared for the exam thoroughly. Despite this, I failed.’)
  • Having said that (e.g. ‘I will never drink again. Having said that, pass me a beer.’)

As a final point, one alternative to ‘but’ you might see is ‘on the other hand’. Ideally, though, this should only be used when the initial point has been introduced with ‘On the one hand’:

On the one hand, I did break everything in your house. On the other hand, it was my birthday, so you should forgive me.

Comments (4)
C
21st June 2016 at 03:54
Thank you, this was interesting. Proofreading my story I found way too many 'buts' and it was frustrating!
Angela Mather
9th May 2018 at 17:18
There's a typo in your "final point" example. ONE should be ON.
    Proofed
    10th May 2018 at 11:21
    Thanks for the heads up. Corrected now.

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