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In a psychiatric paper I have encountered a sentence which is unclear to me:

It would clearly be preferable if all clinicians and researchers used the same terminology and DSM categories are but one option.

I'm interested in the meaning of the last turn of speech, i.e. but one option. I think this is some sort of idiom, but I can't figure out its sense, it may be "the best option" as well as "the last option" or "the worst option". Also, it will be interesting to learn how to use this phrase properly.

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He means "having DSM categories [is] but one option." – starsplusplus Mar 30 '14 at 21:09
up vote 6 down vote accepted

It means " only one options" out of more they presumably have.

BUT: adverb

only, just, simply, merely: St Anton is but a snowball's throw away from Lech. Collins Dictionary

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“But” can be: conjunction, preposition, adverb, pronoun and noun.

In your context “but” is an adverb, please see #3 in Merriam Webster Dictionary, and can be interpreted as:

“It would clearly be preferable if all clinicians and researchers used the same terminology and DSM categories are only one option.”

Regarding the proper usage, firstly, should be identified which part of speech is, and then carefully learn the different meanings of each from the dictionary.

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The sentence is badly constructed. The writer's thought is compressed into too few words. It is not wrong to use 'but' to mean 'only', but the writer should have re-read his material to see if it expressed his ideas fully.

Here is how he might have written it. Mind you, in expanding his words, I'm not certain I've retained his intended meaning.

"It would clearly be preferable if all clinicians and researchers used the same terminology. We might start by considering the categories given in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a primary source. Many other possibilities exist. Reconstruction into a better overall terminology is left as an exercise for future generations of students."

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The sentence is ungrammatical. categories is plural, and does not agree with one. In this case it's apparent that the author didn't mean that multiple categories create multiple options. Rather, the categories as a set are one option.

The correct phrase would be DSM categorization is but one option.

The meaning is that other options exist. There's a strong suggestion that another option would be better than the named option, in at least some cases.

This construction is usually a response to an incorrect claim or implication that something is mandatory.

As for whether the option named is the best/last/worst, I would suggest that it is the 'most familiar' or 'most recommended'.

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Reason for downvote? – Ben Voigt Mar 31 '14 at 0:51

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