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Is the phrase

"Are there any vegetables except for asparagus?"

equivalent to

"Are there any vegetables other than asparagus?"

The first feels wrong, and the second feels right, but I have no clear understanding of why that is, or when "except for" should be used rather than "other than", or if they are in fact completely interchangeable.

A second case:

Except for asparagus, I love vegetables.

Other than asparagus, I love vegetables.

These two phrases seem equivalent to me. Are they?

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4 Answers 4

In your first set of sentences, except as a preposition means "with the exclusion of; excluding." So, in your example, you would be saying "Are there any vegetables excluding asparagus?" This is incorrect because you are not excluding asparagus; you're actually wanting to know if, in addition to asparagus, there are any other vegetables. You're including aspargus as a vegetable, not excluding it.

In your second sentence, other than means "different from or besides." It is correct. In fact, you could correctly say, "Are there any vegetables besides asparagus?"

Your last set of sentences have the same meaning: I love vegetables in general, but not asparagus. In those sentences, except for means "but for" and other than means "besides."

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I think what's wrong is the "for".

Are there any vegetables except asparagus?

The grammar of when to use "except for" and when to use "except" is governed by an quite complex set of rules (often, you can use either). There probably is a correct and complete description of how this works somewhere on the internet, but I haven't found it, so I can't tell you why you should use "except" here; but it just feels right.

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You're correct in that the first example is wrong, and that it's hard to nail down exactly why. The two phrases are quite similar, and in your second case neither is incorrect. Perhaps, though, other equivalent phrases can highlight the difference in usage if you replace

"except for" with "with the exception of"

and

"other than" with "apart from"

Then we have

"Are there any vegetables with the exception of asparagus?"

which is clearly wrong.

So the two phrases have overlapping uses, but are not equivalent.

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They're equivalent to me, except for a slight difference.

"Except for" seems to me to be used when the person asking the question wants a whole range of vegetables available, with the exception of asparagus. This question implies that the "asker" doesn't know what vegetables are present, but already doesn't want asparagus
e.g., somebody walks in a shop, and wants to buy vegetables, but he can't see any anywhere, so he walks to the shopkeeper and asks if there are "any vegetables except for asparagus".

"Other than" seems to be used when the person asking the question already has "asparagus", but wants a different vegetable. E.g. Person at the shop sees asparagus as the only vegetable in sight, but he doesn't want asparagus, so he asks the shopkeeper if there are "any vegetables other than asparagus."

Other than this differences, they seem to be interchangeable and equivalent in most cases.

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