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What is the meaning of the phrase:

"I am but one." In sentence it is used as: "I am but one person out of the billions that exist on this earth."

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    Here but = only
    – Jim
    Feb 7, 2016 at 7:23
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    – user140086
    Feb 7, 2016 at 8:14
  • I don't agree with user140086 who says that this is basic. It needn't be to a beginner. Nov 13, 2017 at 15:30

2 Answers 2

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It means, "I am just one person out of billions that exist on this earth."

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But has commonly been used as an adverb to mean only; e.g. "I am but one man." Sometimes they are still interchangeable: "Sell them, only (or but) save four of the best for us." Sometimes this replacement sounds okay, other times it would sound a little funny or change the meaning, and in quite a few circumstances it would be really awkward. I find it much easier to use it acceptably without altering meaning when using it in an earlier, more formal English, like that of the King James Bible. In Genesis 18:27 (ASV), Moses said, "Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes..." And so, scattered about here and there are other such uses. Verse 32 reads, "And he said, 'Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there...'" I wouldn't make the replacement, though, on sentences where a but is followed by an only: "We invited many, but only one showed up." The but could be removed, or the only could be removed, but a replacement would be awkward.

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