Most dictionaries I know of say that 'although' has two related but different usages.

For example, Oxford Living Dictionaries define it as follows:

1 In spite of the fact that; even though.

although the sun was shining it wasn't that warm

although small, the room has a spacious feel

1.1 However; but.

he says he has the team shirt, although I've never seen him wear it

Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary defines it as follows:

1 : despite the fact that : though — used to introduce a fact that makes another fact unusual or surprising

  • Although [=while, even though] he was hungry, he could not eat.


2 : but, however, though — used when making a statement that differs from or contrasts with a statement you have just made

  • I don't believe we've met before, although I must say you do look very familiar.

  • I think his name is John, although I'm not completely sure about that.

  • I'd love to have dinner with you, although I can't.

  • The book had a good, although not great, plot.

Both these dictionaries say 'although' has a second meaning equivalent to 'however' or 'but', as opposed to the first meaning of 'despite the fact that' or 'in spite of the fact that'.

Now, the Oxford dictionary shows that the second meaning is subsumed under the first meaning by numbering it "1.1". Even so, I don't understand why this second meaning has to be added in the first place when you certainly can fully understand its meaning simply by the first meaning of 'in spite of the fact that'.

I don't believe that in its second meaning 'although' is syntactically either a coordinate conjunction such as 'but' or a connective adverb such as 'however'. So I think the use of 'but' or 'however' in the second meaning is purely semantic, and that the although-clause is a subordinate clause whether it's used in the first or second meaning.

Furthermore, is there any reason why all these examples of the second meaning have a comma right before 'although'? Would leaving out the comma change the structure and/or meaning of these examples even slightly?

  • True. "... the second meaning is subsumed under the first meaning ...." However, that does not mean the sentence structure and other grammatical aspects would remain the same or that you could merely substitute one for the other. The POS depends both on the sense and nuance as well as position in the sentence. HTH.
    – Kris
    Oct 31, 2018 at 8:29
  • Note that both forms of the example sentence give the same meaning.
    – Kris
    Oct 31, 2018 at 8:29
  • @Kris Not only do both forms give the same meaning, don't they have the same syntax? In both forms, isn't the 'although'-clause a subordinate clause whereas the other clause is the main clause?
    – JK2
    Oct 31, 2018 at 12:46
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    Maybe because the definition "in spite of..." is actually a prepositional phrase and because prepositional phrases are modifiers, not conjunctions, while "however" is a subordinating conjunction and "but" is a coordinating conjunction, each requiring different grammar, particularly as far as commas are concerned. I mean, maybe it is six of one, a half-dozen of the other, but even if it is, I think the purpose of the additional entry added as part and parcel to the first may be to better elucidate "although" being defined as a conjunction rather than an adjective or adverb. Aug 27, 2019 at 17:31
  • Yes. There's not a great deal of difference between these [sub]senses semantically, but some dictionaries feel the need to split (different 'senses' rather than 'subsenses') on syntactic grounds as @Benjamin points out. Aug 22, 2020 at 11:15

1 Answer 1


I do not see the second sense being the same as the first.

First sense:

Although the sun was shining it wasn't that warm.

I take this to be the equivalent to:

The sun was shining. Yet, contrary to what you might assume from that, it wasn't that warm.

In other words, although is being used to point out a conclusion that is contrary to the evidence.

Second sense:

He says he has the team shirt, although I've never seen him wear it.

I take this to the the equivalent to:

He says he has the team shirt. Oh, and I've never seen him wear it.

Here, although is not being used to state a conclusion that is seemingly in contradiction to evidence. It's being used to state something additional and related, but nonessential.

Which, by the way, is the reason for the comma: what follows it is a nonrestrictive relative clause. The essential meaning of the sentence would not be changed if the comma and everything after it were removed (the resulting sentence would still be grammatical).

In the first example, the sun is warm; therefore, it's natural to assume that it is warm because the sun is out. But that's not actually true. So, although is being used to point out an exception.

In the second example, no conclusion is being drawn from the fact that somebody has a team shirt. Just because somebody owns a piece of clothing (or is storing it somewhere) that doesn't mean that they should necessarily wear it. I own several pieces of clothing that I haven't worn in years. Although is not being used to point out an exception at all; it's being used to simply mention a related, but optional, second fact.

To specifically demonstrate the syntactical use of the comma in all of the example sentences of the second sense, here they are without the nonessential information:

He says he has the team shirt.
I don't believe we've met before.
I think his name is John.
I'd love to have dinner with you.
The book had a good plot.

Note that in the last example sentence, the nonessential information is parenthetical, so the last word remains.

Last, note the syntax in the first sense where although is used as the first word in the sentence. In the second sense, it always comes in the middle of the sentence. It's this syntactical structure that determines its meaning.

First sense (contrary to an assumption):

Although the sun was shining it wasn't that warm.

Second sense (nonrestrictive relative clause):

It wasn't that warm, although the sun was shining.

  • 1
    Firstly, I don't understand your analysis of 'although' in the second sense as leading "a nonrestrictive relative clause". Does that mean the second 'although' is a relative word? If so, where is the gap in the relative clause? Secondly, in both 'sun' example sentences that you've presented at the end, I believe the main clause is it wasn't that warm and that the subordinate clause is the sun was shining. If so, shouldn't they mean the same thing?
    – JK2
    Oct 31, 2018 at 7:05
  • 1
    Why is it that you don't respond to my question regarding 'although' leading "a nonrestrictive relative clause"? Also, how do you know the although-clause in the second sentence is an afterthought? Is it because it has a comma or because every although-clause coming after the main clause is an afterthought?
    – JK2
    Oct 31, 2018 at 15:53
  • 1
    Restrictive or nonrestrictive, a relative clause must have a gap within. But where is the gap in the clause "the sun was shining"?
    – JK2
    Oct 31, 2018 at 16:41
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    Regarding the afterthought thing, let's say you hear someone say the second sentence "It wasn't that warm although the sun was shining." And there is no pause between "warm" and "although". Then, how do you know whether the although clause is an afterthought or not? Now, say you read the second sentence written with the comma. How do you know if that comma is meant to indicate an afterthought or not?
    – JK2
    Oct 31, 2018 at 16:46
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    @JK2 Spoken words do not contain punctuation—you can only assume they do. When you hear something, you can only translate that into how it would be written (and punctuated) based on context and intonation. How do I know if somebody is saying "hear" or "here"? Because of the surrounding words. But if you write something, you write it precisely. How something is written determines its meaning. (Unless, even then, it's ambiguous.) I am not analyzing a spoken sentence here but a written sentence. It's an afterthought because of how it's been written; write it differently and it wouldn't be. Oct 31, 2018 at 16:57

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