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CONJUNCTIONS. But, transition of meaning

But. Transition of meaning. These last passages illustrate the transition of but from except to "on the contrary," "by way of prevention." The transition is natural, inasmuch as an exception may well be called contrary to the rule. The first passage is a blending of two constructions: "if she had not spoken it dying I would not believe," and "I would not believe, but she spoke it dying." Similarly: "Except infirmity had seized--he had (would have) measured," and "He had (would have) measured, but (by way of prevention) infirmity hath seized."

The different usages of but arise, (1) from its variations between the meaning of "except," "unless," and the adversative meaning "on the other hand;" (2) from the fact that the negative before but, in the sense of "except," is sometimes omitted and at other times inserted. Thus "but ten came" may mean "ten however came," or "(none) but ten, i.e. only ten, came." But is now much more confined than it was, to its adversative meaning. We still say "it never rains but it pours" (where the subject is the same before and after but); and, even where a new subject is introduced, we might say, "I did not know but you had come," "You shall not persuade me but you knew," &c.; but this use is colloquial, and limited to a few common verbs. We should scarcely write

“I never saw but Humphrey duke of Gloucester
Did bear him like a noble gentleman.

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