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Possible Duplicate:
The construction of “Known but to God”
Difference between “but” and “nothing but”

Is it acceptable to omit the word nothing in the following sentence?

Knowledge was nothing but a tool.

I remember hearing somewhere the sentence

You are but a fool!

To my ear, omitting nothing makes it sound more dramatic, but I’m not sure.

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@Nate Duplicate questions don't count as duplicates. You should pull the original instead. –  KitFox Dec 31 '12 at 17:18
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@KitFox: Indeed, 44900 "Life is but a dream" is closed as a duplicate of 9235 "Known but to God". But I don't think they are really duplicates, as in "but a dream" it seems that "but" is acting as a preposition, while in "but to God" it is an adverb. 44900 has answers that seem more relevant to this question, so I cited it. –  Nate Eldredge Dec 31 '12 at 17:28
    
Yes: english.stackexchange.com/questions/9235/… -- "nothing but" means "nothing except"; just "but" means "only". 9235 says that (although you need to read the comments). –  Andrew Leach Dec 31 '12 at 17:30
    
@AndrewLeach Given that comments are temporary, it's not sufficient to point to another question as a dupe on the strength of comments. I'm not saying that's what you are doing necessarily – it may be a dupe of that question anyway. –  MετάEd Dec 31 '12 at 21:57
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marked as duplicate by Andrew Leach, Hellion, RegDwigнt Dec 31 '12 at 18:24

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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Knowledge was nothing but a tool

means

Knowledge was nothing except a tool

while

Knowledge was but a tool

means

Knowledge was only a tool

It turns out that the two meanings of but give sentences which have similar meanings!

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