but for

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but for

  1. Except, except for, not counting; were it not for.
    • c. 1596-97, William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act V scene i[1]:
      I once did lend my body for his wealth, / Which, but for him that had your husband's ring, / Had quite miscarried: []
    • 1847, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Chapter XXXVI:
      She had a woman to take care of her called Mrs Poole — an able woman in her line, and very trustworthy, but for one fault — a fault common to a deal of them nurses and matrons — she kept a bottle of gin by her, and now and then took a drop over-much.
    • 1880, Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad:
      But for that beneficent drug, not one of those men would have slept a moment during that fearful night.
    • 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde:
      In the whole extent of the house, which but for the old woman remained otherwise empty, Mr. Hyde had only used a couple of rooms
    • 1992, Najīb Maḥfūẓ, Sugar Street, page 48:
      But for the stinging cold of January, this Casanova would not have taken shelter behind the coffeehouse window, […].

Usage notes[edit]

  • A clause that uses the preposition but for will frequently use the conditional mood (for example, by using the verb would), especially when the but for phrase appears at the beginning of its sentence.



but for (not comparable)

  1. (law) Pertaining to a test of causation whereby an agent or action is considered to have caused an event (and therefore to be responsible and/or liable for said event) if, had said agent or action not existed, the event would not have taken place.
    • 1985, Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart and Tony Honoré, Causation in the Law, page xlv:
      This relevance can in many cases, as here, be tested by the sine qua non or ' but for ' rule.
    • 2003, Mark A. Glick, Lara A. Reymann, and Richard Hoffman, Intellectual Property Damages: Guidelines and Analysis, Wiley, →ISBN, page 37,
      When the expert constructs the "but for" world, he or she must construct it by taking into account how the plaintiff could have adjusted or did adjust to the changed circumstances.
    • 2003, A. P. Simester, G. R. Sullivan, Criminal Law: Theory and Doctrine, page 71,
      But it is important to realise that but for causation is no more than indicative of true legal causation.
    • 2006, Tal Becker, Terrorism and the State: Rethinking the Rules of State Responsibility, page 291:
      But in important ways the ' but for ' test obscures the true role played by causal principles in assessing legal responsibility.

Usage notes[edit]

  • The legal usage is most frequently followed by "rule", "test" or "causation".

Alternative forms[edit]