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This is the first time I have come across a use of but to mean and without having a negative context. If the usage is correct, how would it be different from being used after a context with not only or not, and how would the meaning change if and were used instead of but also?

My brother is talented in many different ways. He is a mathematical genius but also has great musical ability.

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    but in this sense usually is preceded by a negation: He is not only a mathematical genius but also ... – Kris Dec 18 '13 at 13:53
  • Can you cite the source of the quotation? – Kris Dec 18 '13 at 13:54
  • It is part of a paragraph from a school course book by Simon Haines. – niab Dec 18 '13 at 14:14
  • "He is a mathematical genius but also a great musical talent." I think would sound better, the switching of verbs has to is, in the original sentence, is awkward. Am I mistaken? – Mari-Lou A Dec 19 '13 at 11:29
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But contrasts where and equates. In your example, the use of but suggests that there might be something exceptional about being a mathematical genius as well as having great musical ability. And would have made the combination of the two sound normal.

  • This looks odd to me. Is this really common in usage? – Kris Dec 18 '13 at 13:55
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    Yes, that's normal usage; using 'Not only ... but ...' is a little more formal than most people use in practice. – Vince Bowdren Dec 18 '13 at 14:13
  • @vincebowdren Formality aside, they are neither syntactically nor semantically comparable. They mean different things. – Kris Dec 19 '13 at 6:08
  • @Kris: I'm not sure what you mean; in your comment on the question, you say that 'but' in this sense is usually preceded by 'not only'; but in this comment, you say that it means something different? – Vince Bowdren Dec 19 '13 at 9:32
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The second sentence means exactly the same thing as "He is not only a mathematical genius but also has great musical ability," a sentence with which you are familiar. In fact, because "not only" and "but" are redundant, we can elide the "not only" (although we don't have to). My personal preference is to use "not only" in these sentences.

  • How can we elide not only and retain but? Is that usually done? – Kris Dec 18 '13 at 13:56
  • @Kris Could it be that, in speech, you could say first: "He is a mathematical genius...", and then follow with "...but also has great musical ability", without being able to add the "not only" that you would not have omitted in writing? – Albertus Dec 18 '13 at 14:46
  • @Albertus That makes for a different structure. See Barrie's answer: the use of *but suggests that there might be something exceptional about being a mathematical genius as well as having great musical ability.* Not an elision. – Kris Dec 19 '13 at 6:06
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The construction but also would typically be used in sentences where the two things being mentioned are not exactly of the same kind. For example:

The book is a little cryptic but also easy to understand at times.

and also would be used in sentences where the two parts mentioned are of similar kind:

The burger is pretty warm and also tasty

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