Possible Duplicate:
The construction of “Known but to God”
Difference between “but” and “nothing but”

Is it acceptable to omit the word nothing in the following sentence?

Knowledge was nothing but a tool.

I remember hearing somewhere the sentence

You are but a fool!

To my ear, omitting nothing makes it sound more dramatic, but I’m not sure.

  • @Nate Duplicate questions don't count as duplicates. You should pull the original instead.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 17:18
  • 1
    @KitFox: Indeed, 44900 "Life is but a dream" is closed as a duplicate of 9235 "Known but to God". But I don't think they are really duplicates, as in "but a dream" it seems that "but" is acting as a preposition, while in "but to God" it is an adverb. 44900 has answers that seem more relevant to this question, so I cited it. Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 17:28
  • Yes: english.stackexchange.com/questions/9235/… -- "nothing but" means "nothing except"; just "but" means "only". 9235 says that (although you need to read the comments).
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 17:30
  • @AndrewLeach Given that comments are temporary, it's not sufficient to point to another question as a dupe on the strength of comments. I'm not saying that's what you are doing necessarily – it may be a dupe of that question anyway.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 21:57

1 Answer 1


Knowledge was nothing but a tool


Knowledge was nothing except a tool


Knowledge was but a tool


Knowledge was only a tool

It turns out that the two meanings of but give sentences which have similar meanings!

  • I'd say "nothing but" = "only", so what's the difference?
    – NPS
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 0:08

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