Monday, February 11, 2008

ALTHOUGH versus BUT

Today in class, we have some good grammar questions! Sam asked me a question about “although” and “but” and it really demonstrated to me how hard it is to explain English grammar sometimes. I mean, because I am a native speaker, I can feel what is correct and what is incorrect. However, to articulate why something is correct and why something is sometimes incorrect can be very difficult. Because of that, I often want to say to my students “trust me – I can feel that this is correct” or “just memorize the difference”, but I know that can be very frustrating for my students! Anyway, I have spent a few minutes thinking about what Sam asked me in class, and this is what I came up with.

The adverbial “although” means the same thing as “despite the fact that”. We use “although” at the beginning of a clause which contains information that contrasts in an unexpected or surprising way with information in another clause. For example:

Although it was raining, we went for a walk.

If it is raining, it is surprising that we went for a walk. The walk happened despite the rain. You can also feel that first it was raining, then we went for the walk. We cannot say this:

Although we went for a walk, it was raining.

If we went for a walk, it wasn’t surprising that it was raining. We probably already knew it was raining. The rain did not happen because of the walk. The rain was not an unexpected result of the walk.

Now let’s try but:

It was raining, but we went for a walk.

The coordinating conjunction “but” emphasizes the joining of two contrasting ideas. In the above sentence, you can feel that the two ideas contrast with each other. As a result, you can flip the sentence around.

We went for a walk, but it was raining.

You can add “but” to either of the clauses, but you can’t add “although” to either of the clauses. The coordinating conjunction “but” joins together two equally contrasting ideas. The adverbial “although” does not join together two equal ideas – one of the ideas is an unexpected result of the other clause.

Phew . . . that was hard! I hope that clears up the difference between “although” and “but”. If anyone understood my grammatical explanation, I’d really love some feedback!

Thanks for the great questions in class!

21 comments:

Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin said...

Can instinct or feeling of a language can be taught? I doubt it. It takes years of reading, writing, speaking, to really understand the tiny nuances of each word and how or where to use them. However, your explanation of "Although and But" helped me understand better such nuances.

Thanks!

Martin

Jason said...

I understood although and but most, and my own language's telling me they are different and can not be replaced by each other. We may not have the same English instinct as Scott, but try to have a universal language instinct can be used on any language.

Great explanation. thankes

anna said...

Hello Scott,
You are the great teacher and your explanations were always brilliant.The last one has confirmed this fact. I remember the story you have told us about your student who always used "but" after positive statements, and this is why had problems with making right conclusions in the essays.

Metalmaster said...

Thanx Scott!
I wish i could read it before the Writing mid-term=)
I am not sure if i used "although" in a right way.

Nahid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joanna said...

Thank you for your explanation, Scot. I have been learning English for so many years, but i have never noticed the difference between "although" and "but".

Natallia said...

Thank you Scott!
I always felt that there is some diference between but and althogh. But after your explanation I am sure there is total diference between them!

We will,we will rock U!! said...

Yaaaa, Ow!

Amin said...

It was very clear and useful, tnx.

GHASSAN said...

really thanks for explaining the diffrence.

flyinbutter said...

hi
how about that:
It was late but she couldn't sleep.
She couldn't sleep although it was late.
Here both are correct obviously but if I flip the first sentence around:
She couldn't sleep but it was late.
The sentence sounds awkward, doesn't it?
How am I supposed to explain it to SS now? :(

kia said...

Although my English is not so good, I can understand your explanation of how to use those advs.

I will remember not to combine "although...,but" in my sentences anymore.

Thank you Scott!

patriciaparola2004 said...

Dear Scot,
Flying butter's comment reveal the difficulties in the learning of a foreign language. Sometimes as native speaker we do make mistakes, so don't be afraid about it, as long as communication is successfully achieved. Anyway, the earlier you learn a foreign language, the better: I'm a teacher of English. I taught my kids the language while they were very very young. They somehow develop what you call the "feeling" of the language.
Pat

ali said...

Hello Martin!
i am Waris Ali from Lahore, Pakistan i really want to say you a big thank because this explanation is really solved my problem which i was facing because of
this this connecting word. It is the best explanation of "ALTHOUGH" which i have ever heard or read.

May Dobby said...

May I ask one question?
1. I am a good student, but I play a lot.
2. I am a good student, although I play a lot.

What is the intention of the author between 2 sentences?

Thanks

Ahsan said...

I agree with all. Explanation for although is simply the best however, I wanted to clarify further that isn't "although" better suited in ur exmpale than "but"?

One more doubt based on your profile info.
"I'm a PhD (TESL) graduate from the University of Calgary whose passion is teaching English."
ISn't "whose" modifying Calgary rather than "I"?

My apologies for this is probably not the right forum but your reply will help me a lot as my gmat test dates r gettign closer.

Thanks,
Syed

herbal said...

I am a good student but I play a lot....the sentence does not show contradiction at all (not that but is used with two contradicting ideas)because "play" is not the reverse of bad...someone who plays doesn't mean that he is bad..logically the best way to deliver what you mean in the sentence is I am a good student although I play a lot.Thumbs up!!!

herbal said...

I am a good student but I play a lot....the sentence does not show contradiction at all (not that but is used with two contradicting ideas)because "play" is not the reverse of bad...someone who plays doesn't mean that he is bad..logically the best way to deliver what you mean in the sentence is I am a good student although I play a lot.Thumbs up!!!

Pablo Fernandes said...

Thanks for the explanation, but I think I'll need to work hard to learn about this diference, 'Cause I think isn't easy. I'm a english student from Brazil and I love english, thanks for everything teacher.

marlowe marzan said...

I surmise the although word is more inclined to the cause/reason of the sentence which gives it a contrasting part. For example. I touch the water although I know it is hot(reason that was not given importance). You cannot put although to the effect part of idea. Although I touch it, it is hot. It doesn't give the reason that was not given importance. Unless you change the sentence to. Although I touch it already, it is still hot. Whereas, but is contrasting the two sentences or ideas. I touch it but I know it is hot. I know it is hot, but I touch it.