I've read a sentence from the Economist, as follows:

THE LATEST monthly employment report, published on April 2nd, painted an impressive picture: over the previous month America created more than 900,000 jobs. That figure, the strongest since August, reflects the state of the economy in the first half of March, when the surveys took place. But a look at “high-frequency” economic data for more recent weeks, on everything from daily restaurant diners to Google-search behaviour, suggests that, since then, the recovery has if anything accelerated further. America’s post-lockdown boom has begun.

I couldn't see the negation meaning in the word "But". Because I think the two sentences which is before and after "But" both mean that the economy was developing very well, and the word "but" seems not to mean oppositional relationship. I wonder whether it should be replaced by the word "and"?

  • 4
    The opposition is this: The economy has developed not well, but very well.
    – psmears
    Apr 16, 2021 at 11:43
  • 1
    "But" doesn't require negation: it has weaker meanings given as "on the other hand", "notwithstanding", where there's an element of contrast but no antithesis, with the meaning as psmears says. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/but
    – Stuart F
    Apr 16, 2021 at 11:52
  • 'But' here is used in the 'contrasting lesser with greater' sense. 'But more than this, ...' [OK /Granted,] John has a Jag. But Jill has a Bugatti. Apr 16, 2021 at 13:05

2 Answers 2


The English conjunction but is not a negative, nor does it imply opposition. It is in fact the same logical conjunction as and -- any sentence that is true with but will also be true with and substituted for but.

  • Frank left but Mary stayed behind = Frank left and Mary stayed behind.

Logicians ignore the difference profitably: there is a logical functor called And -- and two functors called Or -- and none called But. It's not needed for truth values, which is all that logic is good for.

The difference between but and and is that but carries a special presupposition of surprise. Someone who says "A but B" instead of just "A and B" finds something surprising about B -- there is some aspect that the speaker would not have predicted, or would not have expected the listener to predict.

That's not a difference of meaning, really; presuppositions are pragmatic differences, about a subliminal expression of the speaker's beliefs and expectations, rather than the truth or falsity of the proposition.


The nearest sense of but I've found in any dictionary is one given by Lexico:

Used to introduce a response expressing a feeling such as surprise ... anger [esteem, satisfaction, even smugness].

  • But that's an incredible saving!

  • We did not know what to expect, but what a fantastic surprise night, it was a real thrill.

Here, but is used in the 'contrasting a lesser with a [far] greater, awesome perhaps' sense. A may be big, but B is huge. It signals a trumping of the first statement.

'But more than this, ...'

  • [OK /Granted,] John has a Jag. But Jill has a Bugatti.

Or from Red Dwarf [episode Justice] [All the Tropes; adjusted]:

[Lister and the Simulant agree to come unarmed to "talk"]:

  • Simulant: Guess what? (Pulls out hunting knife.) I lied.

  • Lister: Guess what? (Allows metal bar to slide from the arm of his jacket.) So did I.

  • Simulant: But I lied twice. (Pulls out a blaster.)

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