• 4-minute read
  • 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?

Other Conjunctions

“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.

So. Much. Hair. (Photo: kentarotakizawa/flickr)
So. Much. Hair.
(Photo: kentarotakizawa/flickr)

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.

Comments (6)
John Lawson
11th June 2020 at 12:54
That was helpful. Thank you.
Aleksandra Gorskaya
21st July 2020 at 17:54
The example with Brian May's hair is priceless!
9th December 2020 at 21:19
Poor Brian. Time to change your hair, my man
Kevin Avery
3rd December 2021 at 09:17
Brian May has a Ph.D. in astrophysics and his hair can reach to distant stars and other dimensions in the Universe.
Yuxi Zheng
25th September 2022 at 17:13
This is very helpful. I was reading an interesting article, which struck me with excessive use of "buts." The "buts" enliven the dialogues, yet harsh and less scholarly.
    2nd October 2022 at 13:47
    Hi, Yuxi. Great! Glad this article was helpful.

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