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This question already has an answer here:

I actually have a very naive question. When someone says

All but five people have left the town.

What does it actually mean? Have 5 people left the town or has everyone else left, with only 5 people remaining?

marked as duplicate by Hellion, Drew, tchrist, anongoodnurse, user66974 Oct 22 '14 at 5:08

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  • "All but" means "all except". – Scott Oct 22 '14 at 0:18
  • You mean question, not doubt. – tchrist Oct 22 '14 at 1:14
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A definition of but:

other than (Merriam-Webster)

A definition of all:

the whole number or sum of (Merriam-Webster)

In All but five people have left the town, all represents the total number of people that were in the town, 5 denotes how many people didn't leave, and but creates the condition for how to use those two sums in relation to each other.

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all but something:

  • Everyone or everything except those mentioned. (The Free Dictionary)

Your sentence means: "Everyone except five people left the town."

All but the weakest plants survived the hot weather. (All plants except the weakest...)

0

Everyone else left, those five stayed.

On the other hand, all but is an idiomatic phrase which means almost, nearly:

He was all but dead.

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