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Can they be used interchangeably? If not, in which situations should I use the former and the latter?

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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

When they're interchangeable...

The following sentences are typical uses of "but/however" (note the different punctuation, hat tip:@snailboat):

I wanted to go to the store, but I didn't have enough time.
I wanted to go to the store; however, I didn't have enough time.

In these sentences, the two words are essentially interchangeable. The version with "but" is probably a little more informal.

When they're not...

There are other uses of the two words, however, where they are not interchangeable. Here are a few examples:

Examples where you can use only "but"...

  • I liked all but one of the songs on that album. [used as a preposition to mean "except"]
  • I am but your humble servant. [used as an adverb to mean "only"]
  • I don't want to hear any ifs, ands, or buts. [used as a noun as part of an idiom]

Examples where you can use only "however"...

  • I'll pay for it however I can. [used as an adverb to mean "in whatever way"]
  • There are other uses of the two words, however, where they are not interchangeable. [used as an aside]
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However isn't a coordinator in standard English. "I wanted to go to the store, however I didn't have enough time" is probably not kosher. –  snailplane Dec 29 '13 at 5:01
    
Are you saying you'd punctuate the sentence differently? The sentence sounds fine to my ear. –  godel9 Dec 29 '13 at 5:06
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Sure. It's fine as two sentences: "I wanted to go to the store. However, I didn't have enough time." –  snailplane Dec 29 '13 at 5:06
    
Or: "I wanted to go to the store; however, I didn't have enough time." –  godel9 Dec 29 '13 at 5:07
    
Sure, that's fine too. –  snailplane Dec 29 '13 at 5:18
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