I read this sentence in The Life of Samuel Johnson:

"The booksellers who contracted with Johnson, single and unaided, for the execution of a work, which in other countries has not been effected but by the co-operating exertions of many, were Mr. Robert Dodsley, Mr. Charles Hitch, Mr. Andrew Millar, the two Messieurs Longman, and the two Messieurs Knapton."

I am not certain about the meaning of "but" in this context. "But" means "only" OR "however". I can skip it and still understand the whole sentence. However, I want to know exactly about it because I am learning the English language.

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  • Possibly a better fit for the English Language Learners SE. – Annie May 25 at 4:22
  • 1
    @Annie it probably wouldn't qualify on English Language Learners, since on both that site and ours there's a requirement that the asker do some basic research such as looking up a dictionary – which is why I'm voting to close this question. In fact the simple internet query "define but" provides an immediate answer. – Chappo May 25 at 8:46

It means, here, “except”. “Effected” means “made to happen” here. The “not . . . but” in combination mean “only.”

  • It's always disappointing to see an answer from a high-rep user end up in the Low Quality Queue. Any chance of some additional detail (the usual suspects: an explanation, perhaps a definition and link, maybe some published examples)? :-) – Chappo May 25 at 8:51
  • Oh, feel free to delete. Now that boldben has answered and thus ensured a wrong answer doesn’t stand alone, no reason for more cut and paste. – Xanne May 26 at 1:28

As Xanne's answer says it means "except". This is a valid meaning of "but", however it isn't used much these days: ordinary English has changed quite a lot since 1791.

Gooling "but define" returns, among others, this entry from the Online Oxford Living Dictionary in which:

meaning 2 is

{with negative or in questions} Used to indicate the impossibility of anything other than what is being stated.

and meaning 5 is

archaic {with negative} Without it being the case that.

It's always worth looking words up if the meaning you know doesn't make sense in the text you are reading. Lots of English words have (or have had) multiple meanings.

  • “There but for the grace of God go I” is a familiar phrase, though. So, still in use – Xanne May 26 at 5:47
  • @Xanne Very true, but only as an idiom which was coined at a time when meaning 5 was current. I can't imagine anyone saying "One cannot build a website but by using HTML in some form" – BoldBen May 27 at 12:33

"However by..." It seems like this is the meaning of "but" in this context.

  • -1: this answer is wrong. It's best not to guess; we're after authoritative, detailed and correct answers on this site. Please see How to Answer and take the EL&U [Tour} for guidance. – Chappo May 26 at 7:04

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