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Does "but one" mean "only one" or "except one"?

This phrase shows up in the song "Love is an Open Door" from the movie "Frozen". The relevant line is "Our mental synchronization can have but one explanation".

EDIT: Shouldn't it be "Our mental synchronization can't have but one explanation"?

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt May 7 '14 at 9:44

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  • 1
    It would be nice to say there's but one usage, but one other usage comes to mind. – FumbleFingers Apr 21 '14 at 21:46
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    (Be) but NP means '(be) only NP'. There are but a few of them means 'There are only a few of them'. Normally the NP is quantified (e.g, one/thirteen/a few of them). However, if the phrase is all but NP, then it means 'all except one/thirteen/a few of them'. Make sure you know which idiom you're talking about. There are a lot of them, and some have more words than others. – John Lawler Apr 21 '14 at 21:59
  • So "but one" means "only one", but "all but one" means "all except one"? And why did you but "be" in parentheses? Does the former idiom only work with "be", or does it work with other verbs as well? – David Apr 26 '14 at 9:57
  • I removed the [n't] because those aren't part of the lyrics and it is incorrect to add them in this context. – MrHen May 5 '14 at 19:45
  • @David Yes. Both meanings are used, depending on the context. – Micah Walter Jan 9 '15 at 18:29

It means only one

BUT: adverb

only, just, simply, merely: St Anton is but a snowball's throw away from Lech. Collins Dictionary

  • Or limiting modifier for those who like their adverbs to be words modifying verbs. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 21 '14 at 22:57
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    So "I don't love anyone but you" means "I don't love anyone, only you" or "I don't love anyone except you"? Notice the effect the comma has on the nuance. – David Apr 26 '14 at 10:10
  • But: is used in different contexts and with differential meanings: I suggest you consult a dictionary for reference. Prep. 'with the exception of': No one replied but me. 'other than': nothing but trouble. – user66974 Apr 26 '14 at 12:27

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