I asked about a version of the following sentence yesterday, but today my focus is different. Do you think "but" makes sense in the following sentences?

Gorillas have often been portrayed as a timid species, but in truth these shy apes constantly fight over sex, food, or territory.

I'd like to know what function the conjunction but serves in the sentence. Is it intended to debunk the notion that gorillas are timid? If so, wouldn't the purpose be defeated by the second clause acknowledging they are "shy apes," i.e. timid animals?


2 Answers 2


Yes, 'but' is used to indicate that something in the second part of the sentence will contradict something that was said in the first part of the sentence.

The words 'these shy apes' could have been replaced by 'they', e.g.

Gorillas have often been portrayed as a timid species, but in truth they constantly fight over sex, food, or territory.

I suspect that the writer deliberately chose to use 'these shy apes' instead of 'they' because (i)it reinforces the apes shyness and (ii) 'these shy apes' then appears immediately before the writer introduces the contradiction. On the other hand, using.'they' would put four words between 'a timid species' and the contradiction, which could reduce the impact of the contradiction.

As an aside, it is arguable that no contradiction actually exists. The fact that gorillas can be timid in the presence oh humans, is no reason why they cannot be aggressive within their own communities. So, this sentence is not really comparing apples with apples.


From the Cambridge Dictionary:

But is a conjunction.

But as a linking word

We use but to link items which are the same grammatical type (coordinating conjunction). But is used to connect ideas that contrast.

main idea                       contrast
I love fruit                        I am allergic to strawberries.
They've bought     but     they still haven't sold
a houseboat in                their house in London.

The phrase but not is common:

      The room has been painted but not in the colour that I asked for.

      I’d love to go for a pizza with you but not tonight.

No matter what words precede and follow but, in the same sentence construction, but will serve the same syntactic function.

In your sentence, timidity is being contrasted with fighting.

It's possible that shy could here diminish the value of this contrast (depending on how it's interpreted), but it doesn't negate the role that but is playing.

You must log in to answer this question.

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