Author Topic: Clauses joined with 'but'  (Read 81 times)

Offline Audiendus

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Clauses joined with 'but'
« on: October 03, 2017, 08:10:49 PM »
Consider the following sentences, which each consist of two clauses joined with the conjunction 'but':

1. The weather is bad, but I feel happy.
2. Not only is the weather bad, but also there are no trains running.
3. It never rains but it pours.


Sentence (1) is straightforward; we have two independent clauses joined with a co-ordinating conjunction, and we can split the sentence into two complete shorter sentences:
The weather is bad. But I feel happy.

In sentence (2) we again seem to have two independent clauses, but if we write them as separate sentences they look odd:
Not only is the weather bad. But also there are no trains running.
Is "not only is the weather bad" an independent clause? It looks grammatically complete, yet seems unable to stand alone. Also, 'but' ought to stand in opposition to the previous sentence, yet here it confirms it (if 'also' there are no trains running, this agrees with the statement that 'not only' is the weather bad).

In sentence (3), which is a common proverb, the meaning is "it never rains without it pouring". So 'but' is actually a subordinating conjunction here, and the second clause is dependent. It would therefore be semantically wrong to split the sentence into two and say:
It never rains. But it pours.

I would be grateful for any comments on the above.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Clauses joined with 'but'
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2017, 08:43:01 PM »
Hi Audiendus. I study coordination (with 'and', not so much with 'but'), so I'll be happy to discuss this with you.

Regarding your sentences:

(1) Yes, I agree, 'normal' contrastive use of 'but'.

(2) That's probably an example of a correlative conjunction, with two parts, like "either... or" or "both... and", rather than just 'but' on its own. So aside from there necessarily being some historical explanation for how that usage developed, it is a distinct construction with different properties. (Within it, 'but' does seem to have essentially the same meaning, though, right?)

(3) This one is fascinating to me. I'm not familiar with that expression. Do you know which dialect it comes from? Is it possible it's from Irish English?
It seems parallel to a Celtic construction, with an 'absolutive' clause with a subject in accusative case plus description with no finite verb ('be' is omitted, while a lexical verb is in a non-finite form). This construction has been borrowed from Irish and Scottish Gaelic into Irish and Scottish English (and it has found its way elsewhere, such as I think some usage in Shakespeare's works). An example would be:
Tháinig Seán agus é ólta.
'John came and him drunk.' [='while drunk']
This has been discussed a lot as "subordinating-and" in the literature on Celtic languages and Celtic Englishes, and it has survived as an expression also in the broader Celtic-English diaspora (e.g., several American dialects). I have a number of references if you want some reading suggestions. (That's from a paper by Martina Häcker. One of her papers is uploaded here: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.524.7790&rep=rep1&type=pdf)

My research focuses on pseudocoordination, usually of the verb-and-verb type, such as "go and get" or "try and do" where 'and' is being used in some sort of subordinate (or just non-coordinate) way. This Celtic 'subordinating-and' is obviously similar (but with some different properties). However, at least within Celtic, it seems that agus (plus cognates) originally functioned as a preposition that only later took on the coordinating function. So it was always subordinating, and this is a subordinating relic, rather than an innovation of the coordinator as subordinator (therefore arguably not 'pseudocoordination' per se). Of course in English this is due to contact, so you could say it's a coordinator being used differently, but only due to literal translation / calquing. (English 'and' also etymologically comes from a preposition meaning roughly 'after', but that's unrelated in this case.)

So by analogy I imagine that with 'and' used subordinatively like that, some speakers might also use 'but' in that way. (At the moment I can't remember seeing examples of that in Celtic languages, and it's certainly not a frequent point of discussion in the literature, but it may be used similarly.)

On the other hand, although that construction is exceptional and maybe related to the Celtic subordinating-and, there is another possible explanation. Sometimes 'but' means 'except', as in "I don't have any fruit but apples." (='I have no fruit but I do have apples.'). That usage does not typically allow for a finite verb ('but' is a sort of 'preposition' there I guess?), but it seems like a hybrid construction of that type. A related form that is grammatical but doesn't have quite the right meaning to my ears would be something like "It never rains but pouring". (Note the non-finite form as would typically be found in Celtic also. The finite form is anomalous for the potential Celtic explanation as well.)

I'd be very interested in more data like (3) if you have it.
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Offline Audiendus

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Re: Clauses joined with 'but'
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2017, 06:02:16 AM »
Thanks. I agree with your analysis of sentence (2).

With regard to sentence (3), you may be interested in this discussion:

http://www.echochamber.me/viewtopic.php?t=62928

Offline Daniel

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Re: Clauses joined with 'but'
« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2017, 12:48:32 AM »
 Thanks for the link. Those are interesting examples, including some from Shakespeare. It is interesting that the subordinating-and usage was found in Shakespeare also.
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Offline Audiendus

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Re: Clauses joined with 'but'
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2017, 09:25:39 AM »
On the other hand, although that construction is exceptional and maybe related to the Celtic subordinating-and, there is another possible explanation. Sometimes 'but' means 'except', as in "I don't have any fruit but apples." (='I have no fruit but I do have apples.'). That usage does not typically allow for a finite verb ('but' is a sort of 'preposition' there I guess?), but it seems like a hybrid construction of that type.
Yes, I think the "it never rains but it pours" construction is related to this 'except' meaning. The idea seems to be "it never rains except that it pours" or "it never rains except insofar as it pours". The first clause always contains a negative of some kind, and there should be no comma between the clauses (otherwise they would both be independent, and contradictory).

Quote
A related form that is grammatical but doesn't have quite the right meaning to my ears would be something like "It never rains but pouring". (Note the non-finite form as would typically be found in Celtic also. The finite form is anomalous for the potential Celtic explanation as well.)
We can say "It is not just raining, but (is) pouring", or "It does not just rain, but pours".

This doesn't seem to work with a negative other than "not". "It is never just raining, but (is) pouring" and "It never just rains, but pours" do not sound right.

However, if we repeat the subject, so that we have two clauses, we can say either:
"It never just rains; it pours" (2 independent clauses)
or the quasi-Shakespearean version:
"It never rains but it pours" (1 independent + 1 dependent clause).

Incidentally, note the following:
"He is not a communist but a socialist"
"He is not a communist but he is a socialist".

The first one emphasises the difference; the second one emphasises the similarity.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Clauses joined with 'but'
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2017, 09:40:04 AM »
Very interesting points. This construction is still unfamiliar to me, but I like seeing the examples.

Quote
"He is not a communist but he is a socialist".
Now that's starting to sound a little more natural to my ears, but it's possible I'm just getting used to it now that you've explained it. "But" more easily means "unless" to me now.
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