English: conjunctions: “ands, ifs, or buts”

Tutoring English or any subject, you recall your own school memories.  The English tutor brings forward the “ands, ifs, or buts” phrase, hoping to breathe in new life….

How many of you remember the teacher’s warning:  “I want this done by Monday, no ands, ifs or buts.”  If you’re in your forties and hail from the Maritimes, you heard it, whether directed at you or someone else.  It meant, or course, “no excuses.”

However rarely “ands, ifs, or buts” is used today, the phrase contains a ripe assortment of conjunctions.  Conjunctions are, or course, words used to join ideas to form sentences.

The most commonly used conjunction is and.  While it has its uses, it’s not exactly a mark-fetcher from an English teacher’s (or professor’s) point of view.  What can be used instead, that marks might stick to a little better?

I read once that but is logically equivalent to and.  Logically equivalent, perhaps – yet so much better in so many cases.  Consider the following:

1) Mother wants to make cupcakes and she needs more flour.

2) Mother wants to make cupcakes but she needs more flour.

The first sentence states the two facts as being virtually independent.  The second one establishes the need for more flour in order to make the cupcakes.  Therefore, the word but gives more meaning than and.

Consider another example:

3) I’ve narrowed the wall colour to a few possibilites, and I’m waiting for your opinion.


4) I’ve narrowed the wall colour to a few possibilites, but I’m waiting for your opinion.

The two sentences may be logically equivalent, but 4) conveys the idea that the speaker won’t decide until they talk to you.

I read that “and” and “but” are logically equivalent in a computer science manual.  The idea immediately impressed me.  At first, I didn’t believe it.  However, as I explored the comparison between “and” and “but”, I realized that, from a certain point of view, the manual was correct.  Still, people don’t commonly sense “and” and “but” as being equivalent, which is why “but” can offer richer meaning than “and.”  When I’m about to use “and”, I usually ask myself if “but” will work better.  I use “and” much less today than I did ten years ago.

I’ll be saying much more about conjunctions in future posts.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

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