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Possible Duplicate:
Specific usage of the word ‘but’

What does “It is but X” mean?

For example, as in “Yes; however, they are but thoughts.”

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marked as duplicate by Kosmonaut, Jon Hanna, tchrist, Kristina Lopez, MετάEd Jan 20 '13 at 4:03

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
This is not a duplicate of the question it was closed as a dupe of. Voting to reopen. – MετάEd Jan 19 '13 at 18:26
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But it is a dup of the one I linked to! It just so happens that the first dup closevote incorrectly cited a different question. And because that used used up my vote, I can't closevote again! – FumbleFingers Jan 19 '13 at 23:59

But in your sentence means only.

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To add to that, it means only in the sense of not very important or significant. – Jon Hanna Jan 19 '13 at 17:11
    
That's because it mimics the idiom only thoughts; i.e, that's the usual interpretation of only in this construction, so but gets it too, if it means 'only'. – John Lawler Jan 19 '13 at 17:19
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Well illustrated in Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’: "It is but a cottage," she continued, "but I hope to see many of my friends in it." – Barrie England Jan 19 '13 at 17:23
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A less ambiguous synonym is "merely". – MετάEd Jan 19 '13 at 18:24
    
You could think of an omitted "nothing" before the "but", as in they are nothing but thoughts. – Perleone Jan 19 '13 at 23:56

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