I would like to know the grammatical term for using the word but in the following context:

John speaks loudly, but he's a nice guy.

The word but is used to signify a negation, to create contrast. Is there a term to describe this specific negation?

3 Answers 3


As ruakh and Barrie have pointed out, but is a coordinating conjunction. Logically, it means the same as and, unlike the other coordinating conjunction, or, which is quite different.
The difference between and and but is not logical or even semantic, but rather pragmatic.

If A is true and B is true, both conjoined constructions in the set {A and B, A but B} indicate this fact. However, A but B carries in addition a presumption to the effect that the speaker did not expect B given A, or believed that A's being true would normally contradict B, or was for some other reason surprised that B is true in this context.

There is no special technical term to denote this except, possibly, contrastive. It is not, however, negation, of any sort.

  • Thanks all for replying. I consulted Wikipedia and according to the article on Conjunction, my example is also known under the name "correlative conjunctions". Link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conjunction_(grammar)
    – Claudiu
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 20:11
  • 2
    Actually, correlative conjunctions come in pairs, like not only ... but also, or neither ... nor. Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 20:49
  • 1
    +1 For both answer and comment. I think the line about 'not a negation' should have been the first sentence.
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 13:11

It's sometimes called a contrastive conjunction.


As in many similar contexts, it's a conjunction. More specifically, it's a coordinating conjunction, or a coordinator.

  • No, it's a coordinating conjunction, coordinating the independent clauses "John speaks loudly" and "he's a nice guy". (Note that you can't say *"But John's a nice guy, he speaks loudly"; if but were a subordinating connection introducing a subordinate clause, you would be able to move that clause to the beginning of the independent clause.)
    – ruakh
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 15:20
  • @ruakh: Yes, my carelessness. Now edited. Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 15:22

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