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Could you tell me which of these phrases is grammatically correct — "anything but" or "anything except"?

If the use depends on context, what are the instances when each must be preferred?

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but = except However, anything but is a kind of set phrase -- use it for effect; anything, except is more clear and preferred in serious writing, use it in general. – Kris Nov 2 '12 at 8:58
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Anything but can be a phrase used to emphasise that something is not what was expected

Example from the dictionaries:

She's meant to be really nice but she was anything but nice when I met her.

In sentences where such meaning is not intended, except (as mentioned by Kris) is preferred since it does not interfere with the above meaning.

"I can't give you anything but love" would be more correctly written "I can't give you anything, except love".

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True. But this may not be true in all instances of 'anything but/ except' -- "What'll you have?" "Anything but/ except coffee." (I don't drink coffee./ I hate coffee./ I had coffee a while ago.) We cannot make a broad-based categorical statement that it was not expected. – Kris Nov 2 '12 at 9:12
Updated the answer – mplungjan Nov 2 '12 at 9:39
Just for confirmation, Is example given about not suiting to ear or is second sentence grammatically incorrect? I think second sentence is incorrect. – Vishal Nov 2 '12 at 10:41
I think so too. I will remove it since it is more relevant to use the example given by Kris in the comment – mplungjan Nov 2 '12 at 10:46

but = except

Both are grammatical. Except should preferably be preceded by a word with a comma. In short and very clear sentences, the comma may be dropped, though.

However, anything but is a kind of set phrase -- use it for effect; anything, except is more clear and preferred in serious writing, use it in general.

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I would not call it "kind of a set phrase" it IS a phrase anything but – mplungjan Nov 2 '12 at 9:04
@mplungjan You mean it IS a SET phrase. :) – Kris Nov 2 '12 at 9:09
Tihi----------- – mplungjan Nov 2 '12 at 9:10
You do not always need to put a comma before "except". It depends on the grammar of the specific sentence "except" is in. – Peter Shor Nov 2 '12 at 11:06

Anything but is the commonly used phrase and means not at all. Aside from that, they both mean the same thing more or less. In some instances you may need a pause before except but that depends on context.

anything but not at all (used for emphasis): he is anything but racist.(OED)

We cannot do anything except to work on daily basis.(nytimes)

Mr. Ai said his police minders suggested he could publicly talk or write about almost anything — except the coming party congress.(nytimes)

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