Yes, I am suggesting that you hold that but—until you hear me out. Also, before you go any further, please note the spelling with the single t!          

Indeed, but might be the logical choice to convey a point, as it fulfills many useful purposes. While most commonly used as a conjunction, the word also serves as a noun, preposition or adverb.


  • John says he’ll have only one of Grandma’s cookies, but he has never stopped before consuming at least six.


  • I’ll hear no buts about your staying with us when you’re in town for the wedding.


  • By the end of the day, we’ll paint all but one office.


  • Despite her formidable reputation, she is but a tiny lady.

In any context, but speaks volumes, and that’s the precise reason to consider a different option when but means no, not really, or not willing. Saying but to offset any stated intention equates to an excuse and conveys insincerity.

Example: When but means no

Resorting to But: “We would love to offer you that job today, but we need to wait until the additional funding is approved for our department.”

Translation: “We cannot afford to hire you.” “You are asking too much money.” “We don’t see the value in hiring you.” “We have found a better candidate.”

Speaking the Truth: “Your current pay range is well above what we can offer as a startup. I’ve hired others with your credentials who have taken a salary cut for the opportunity to grow with us and found they were not willing to put in the work for the time required. I’d like to stay connected. Who knows? We might have an appropriate role for you in the future.”

Example: When but means not really

Resorting to But: “I’m so sorry that I hurt your feelings by saying that you would not comprehend the true loss of a pet, but I had my dog since I was in college and you had your rescue cat for just a few months.”

Translation: “I meant what I said. I was far more attached to my dog than you were to your cat.”

Taking the High Road: “I apologize for failing to acknowledge your loss by saying that you could not comprehend my sadness. I realize you loved your cat and I hurt your feelings. Please forgive me.”

Example: When but means not willing

Resorting to But: “I would love to take your yoga class, but I usually have to work late.”

Translation: “I am making an excuse so you will not think that I am too lazy to put forth the effort.”

Speaking the Truth: “I prefer to go right home after work and do my yoga routine alone. It’s more relaxing to me than attending a class. I enjoy Saturday classes, so let me know if your schedule changes.”

Granted, speaking with sincerity and saying but are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I would love to attend, but I am traveling that week could certainly be the case. However, the other party might hear but and automatically assume such a statement is an excuse. For that reason, take time to pause—hold that but—before it slips out and causes mischief.

My best to you,

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at