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English grammar(?) - no... but V

NibbleNibble Registered User regular
edited May 2012 in Help / Advice Forum
I'm in Asia teaching English. A student asked me a question about a grammar point in her textbook, and it seemed quite strange to me. The book states that the word "but" can be used before a verb in a negative sentence in order to form a double negative, taking the place of "that does not," "who do not," etc. Some of the example sentences given were:

"There is no mother but loves her own children."
= "There is no mother who does not love her own children."

"There were few people but were hurt."
= "There were few people who were not hurt."

"There is no book but he likes to read."
= "There is no book that he doesn't like to read."

"There is nothing but he can do."
= "There is nothing that he can't do."

Every one of these sentences seems strange to me, and I was sure that it must be some kind of mistake on the part of the author, who is not a native speaker. I did find one entry under "but" on, though:
"7. who not; that not: No leaders worthy of the name ever existed but they were optimists."

Is this perhaps an archaic or extremely uncommon usage, or do I just suck at English?

Nibble on


  • FiggyFiggy Registered User regular
    The textbook is correct. And you are correct about it being an archaic usage.

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  • UrQuanLord88UrQuanLord88 Registered User regular
    edited May 2012
    The example sentences sound wrong to me
    b : that —used after a negative <there is no doubt but he won> - fits the last two sentences

    The textbook is combining "a : except for the fact <would have protested but that he was afraid> " and b for the first two sentences?

    In any case, the last thing you want to do in a language is communicate in the uncommon / old form or people would just look at you funny. Even if the textbook is right, there are better ways to express the example sentences, as you have already done.

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  • tinwhiskerstinwhiskers Registered User regular
    The only time I can come up with off hand where this is still used is "There but for the grace of God(go I)", which tends to be used as a reminder of humility, that some thing are outside of you're control.

    Allegedly from a mid-sixteenth-century statement by John Bradford, "There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford", in reference to a group of prisoners being led to execution.
    there but for the grace of God go I
    A recognition that others' misfortune could be one's own, if it weren't for the blessing/kindness/luck bestowed by fate or the Divine.
    Man's fate is in God's hands.
    More generally, our fate is not entirely in our own hands.
    Usage notes
    This proverb is an expression of humility; in using it, a speaker acknowledges that outside factors (such as God's grace, or his upbringing) have played a role in his success in life.
    The adverbial phrase is often set off with commas: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

  • Eat it You Nasty Pig.Eat it You Nasty Pig. tell homeland security 'we are the bomb'Registered User regular
    In modern usage this "but for" is mostly used as a synonym for "except for."

    I can't imagine the provided examples being considered "correct" by any kind of modern grammar guide, and it's pretty hard to believe you'd even find it in a textbook that wasn't from 1920 or something.

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  • RuckusRuckus Registered User regular
    Bottom line: While technically correct, if they attempted to use but in that manner, virtually no native English speaker in at least North America would know what they're talking about.

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  • CryogenCryogen Registered User regular
    I agree, nobody in Australia would understand that usage either. It would likely be parsed as meaning the opposite of what the person would be trying to say.

  • MalgarasMalgaras Registered User regular
    edited May 2012
    As was said, technically correct, but I would ever use it. I don't think I've ever heard it used in my life outside of in a book once in a blue moon. I've certainly never seen it used in any written or spoken communications to me.

    On a side note, thanks for being the type of teacher who actually cares enough to do research into things like this. When I was in school, I would have had plenty of teacher who, when asked that question, would have simply gone with something along the lines of "The book says so, therefore it's true" and expected me to go away with that. This comes to mind.

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  • _J__J_ Pedant Registered User, __BANNED USERS regular
    "So" can cause similar problems, since it can mean "then".

    "I went to the store, and so home."

  • LewieP's MummyLewieP's Mummy Registered User regular
    Its technically correct, but you'd never hear it spoken. Language changes all the time - when I learnt French at school, many years ago, I was taught to say "Puis-je?" (may I) instead of "Est ce que je peut?", when my children were taught French at the same school they were told that although correct, it had fallen out of usage.

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  • LadyMLadyM Registered User regular
    Very archaic. The only one I'd recognize right off the bat without going "huh??" is the first example. And even then I'd expect it to be attributed to someone who lived in the 1800s or something.

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