Is the function of "but" in the sentences below a preposition, please?
If so, what's the exact rule on the case? That is, what part of speech is used after it, a bare infinitive, a full-infinitive, an adjective, a noun or what?

We've had nothing but trouble with this car.
The problem is anything but easy.
I don't intend to do anything but to wait for news.
He does nothing but eat.

  • Fine. A couple of online resources take the preposition form of but into account, but what will we have afterwards? Is it just like the rest of the prepositions, that is, the word after it should be a noun (phrase), gerund-participle, object form?
    – Abbasi
    Jun 3, 2018 at 18:33
  • It has the same meaning as if you replaced it with except for
    – Sean
    Jun 3, 2018 at 19:46
  • @Sean, but I don't think you can replace it with except for in every case. In particular, I don't find The problem is anything except for easy works. (Anything except easy is better, but I'm still not sure about it).
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 3, 2018 at 23:31
  • The issue is really both complicated and controversial.
    – Abbasi
    Jun 4, 2018 at 5:37

1 Answer 1


I don't think it is a preposition: I think it is a sort of coordinating conjunction. The structure "anything/nothing but X" can play various roles - noun phrase, adjective phrase, adverbial phrase, verb phrase, and X plays that same role.

So in your examples:

nothing but trouble - NP

anything but easy - AP

do anything but to wait - VP

does nothing but eat - VP

To my ear, the VP form requires the infinitive without "to", unless it the phrase is introduced by a verb which requires "to", in which case it is optional. So

He eats -> he does nothing but eat


I don't intend to wait -> I don't intend to do anything but wait or I don't intend to do anything but to wait.


  • Thanks +1. I, too, think but can't take the preposition form without complying with the rules related to "Prepositions + N/NP/Gerund-participle, Object".
    – Abbasi
    Jun 3, 2018 at 19:24
  • I don’t want to argue; you’ve taught me a lot over the years. But based on what I read in the dictionary, I thought this mapped pretty closely with the prepositional meaning (but prep. - except : we were never anything but poor; there’s been nothing but trouble since he left; I trusted no one but him; he spoke nothing but Greek). Is this a gray area?
    – J.R.
    Jun 3, 2018 at 19:40
  • I don't know, @J.R. It is the same sense as that, but a far as I know prepositions introduce noun phrases and not any other kind of structure. I suspect that anything/nothing but is sui generis.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 3, 2018 at 20:18
  • There're, of course, some resources like Cambridge Dictionary, bbc.co.uk, that treat but just like any other preposition.
    – Abbasi
    Jun 3, 2018 at 20:39
  • Some other resources like britishcouncil, and academicguides and wikibooks that even don't take but as part of prepositions.
    – Abbasi
    Jun 3, 2018 at 20:39

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .