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I've heard in many places, educated people saying "but nevertheless...". I think both but and nevertheless have the play the same role. Is their combination, as to emphasize that what follows is opposes to the previous statement(s), allowed? Is it considered redundant or uneducated?

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This has been asked before, albeit not here. –  tchrist Nov 15 '12 at 15:01
@tchrist I see... but that's Spanish. –  c.p. Nov 15 '12 at 15:04
It is redundant, but nevertheless it's not considered uneducated. It appears to be reasonably common (in over 6% of occurrences of nevertheless) in the Google Ngram corpus. –  Peter Shor Nov 15 '12 at 15:10
@Jorge I just found it interesting that given that you are presumably a native Spanish speaker, this same question of possible redundancy has arisen there with pero/mas sin embargo as here with English. I’m not even sure I believe that proffered Spanish answer of introducing a comma after the first word. It seems a bit comma-heavy to me. (Plus I was checking whether it was you who asked the question in both cases. :) –  tchrist Nov 15 '12 at 15:10
@tchrist, indeed I am a native Spanish speaker. That said I'm not even sure whether in Spanish it is correct to say that (but that's not the point). The point is that, even if I knew, structures are not always preserved by translations :) –  c.p. Nov 15 '12 at 19:05
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3 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

It isn’t redundant, not least because but is a conjunction and nevertheless is an adverb. The OED has around 40 citations for but nevertheless, including this, for example, from the poet Stephen Spender:

Leaves of Grass is a vague, formless, but nevertheless impressive and rhapsodic Aeneid of the American Civil War.

But signals a contrast, while nevertheless tells us that what is to come is said in spite of Whitman’s work being vague and formless. But on its own would not have achieved this effect. The OED editors themselves use the two words in the same way one of their definitions:

something unusual but nevertheless taken as part of one's ordinary duty or routine.

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The snarky, captious side of me deplores this; the humane and tolerant side fastens on your statement that you've heard it.

Speech is constructed on the fly, and is often (perhaps usually) tentative. People say something, immediately look to qualify it, and throw in a conjunction, "and" or "but" or whatever, to signal that there's more to come, then say what they mean when they've collected their thoughts. If nevertheless turns out to be the word that provides the exact force they want to express, they can't go back and erase the "but".

So when you hear it, ignore it. But if you see it in writing, correct it; and I for one won't object if you characterize it in snarky and captious terms.

Barrie England's answer provides a corrective to what I have written above. His examples address situations where nevertheless modifies a following adjective or adjectival participle. My objection is to the use of but nevertheless as a sort of compounded conjunction, where nevertheless modifies the following clause and would properly be set off by a comma. "Nevertheless, I feel that ..." is OK; so is "But I feel, nevertheless, that ..."; but "But nevertheless I feel that ... " is graceless.

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I think the purpose is that it gives the sentence a different flow than nevertheless alone.

Nevertheless is a different kind of opposition than generic but - it emphasizes independence, "not being affected". So, the choice between but and nevertheless gives a somewhat different impression, conveys a different message.

Meanwhile, nevertheless is a word to usually appear at the beginning of a sentence. Normally, you'll see:

There is clause A. Nevertheless, clause B is true.

This is not entirely the same as

There is clause A, but clause B is true.

Now if you want to retain the first meaning, while obtaining the uninterrupted flow of the second example, you'll use both:

There is clause A, but nevertheless clause B is true.

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There is clause A, but clause B is nevertheless true. OR There is clause A, but clause B is, nevertheless, true. –  StoneyB Nov 15 '12 at 15:33
@StoneyB: Yes, nevertheless can wander quite a bit without changing the meaning, but it doesn't really work as a binding agent like but. Remove the "But" and clause B becomes a separate sentence, no matter where "Nevertheless" goes. –  SF. Nov 15 '12 at 15:43
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protected by RegDwigнt Nov 30 '12 at 11:55

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