6th November 2019
Vocabulary Tips: Alternatives to “But” for Academic Writing
You’ll use some terms frequently in your written work. “But” is one of these words: the twenty-second most common word in English, in fact! Consequently, you shouldn’t worry too much about the repetition of “but” in your writing. But if you find yourself using it in every other sentence, you might want to try a few alternatives. How about the following?
“But” is a conjunction (i.e., a linking word) used to introduce a contrast. For example, we could use it in a sentence expressing contrasting opinions about Queen guitarist Brian May and his hairdo:
I like Brian May, but I find his hair ridiculous.
One option to reduce repetition of “but” in writing is to use the word “yet:”
I like Brian May, yet I find his hair ridiculous.
“Yet” can often replace “but” in a sentence without changing anything else, as both are coordinating conjunctions that can introduce a contrast.
Alternatively, you could use one of these subordinating conjunctions:
- Although (e.g., I like Brian May, although I find his hair ridiculous.)
- Though (e.g., I like Brian May, though I find his hair ridiculous.)
- Even though (e.g., I like Brian May, even though I find his hair ridiculous.)
As subordinating conjunctions, these terms can also be used at the start of a sentence. This isn’t the case with “but,” though:
Though I like Brian May, I find his hair ridiculous. – Correct
But I like Brian May, I find his hair ridiculous. – Incorrect
Other subordinating conjunctions used to introduce a contrast include “despite” and “whereas.” If you’re going to use “despite” in place of “but,” you may need to rephrase the sentence slightly. For instance:
Despite liking Brian May, I find his hair ridiculous.
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I like Brian May’s guitar solos, whereas I find his hair ridiculous.
How to Use “However”
One common replacement for “but” in academic writing is “however.” But we use this adverb to show a sentence contrasts with something previously said. As such, rather than connecting two parts of a sentence, it should only be used after a semicolon or in a new sentence:
I like Brian May’s guitar solos. However, I find his hair ridiculous.
I like Brian May’s guitar solos; however, I find his hair ridiculous.
“However” can be used mid-sentence, separated by commas. Even then, though, you should separate the sentence in which it appears from the one with which it is being contrasted. For instance:
I like Brian May’s guitar solos. I do, however, find his hair ridiculous.
Here, again, the “however” sentence contrasts with the preceding one.
Other Adverbial Alternatives to “But”
Other contrasting adverbs and adverbial phrases can be used in similar ways to “however” above. Alternatives include:
- Conversely (I like Brian May’s guitar solos. Conversely, I find his hair ridiculous.)
- Nevertheless (I like Brian May; nevertheless, I find his hair ridiculous.)
- In contrast (I like Brian May’s guitar solos. In contrast, I find his hair ridiculous.)
One popular phrase for introducing a contrast is “on the other hand.” In formal writing, though, this should always follow from “on the one hand:”
On the one hand, I like Brian May’s music, so I do admire him. On the other hand, his hairstyle is terrifying, so I do worry about him.
Finally, if you’re ever unsure which terms to use as alternatives to “but” in writing, having your document proofread by the experts can help.
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