He all but demolished the G.O.P. in the election that followed.

I believe that I found this in a random book I was reading; and I just took note of it in my notepad since I didn't know what it meant. I'm only struggling with the phrase "all but ..."; I used to think it meant "except for", which no matter how much I try to, I can't make it make sense within this particular sentence.

(I'm always looking to improve on my English, so I'd greatly appreciate it if you would point out any grammatical mistakes I've made in describing my question)

  • 2
    idiomatic expression: to all but [action verb] something=to almost x something.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 17:09

1 Answer 1


All but can mean except, but most often means everything up to, such as,

I all but ran to get the phone.

This means that I hurried while not actually running. Almost has not quite the same meaning as all but because while I almost ran (as I was walking so fast) for the phone, almost could also mean it stopped ringing before I started, so I almost ran for it, but did not at all.

All but, in this case, is a qualifier to hyperbole, reducing the tabloid-esque melodrama, and avoiding outright hyperbole. It is used in the sense that it did not literally happen, no actual demolishing happened, while retaining the metaphoric sense, that a crushing victory was had.

  • Almost also means not literally. If I say I almost did something that means it didn't actually happen. So, your second sentence doesn't make much sense. In fact, what it means is essentially the same as almost. Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 19:58
  • I'd disagree that almost means not literally. In my humble opinion, it is emphasising the metaphoric, non literal meaning of the phrase, not that it is not factual. In the example, He certainly defeated G.O.P., there is no question of almost. Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 22:12
  • What you just said doesn't address the issue. He all but defeated the G.O.P means the same thing as he almost defeated the G.O.P. In neither case was the G.O.P. actually defeated, but defeat was still nearly achieved. That as opposed to your example of he certainly defeated the G.O.P, where the G.O.P. was actually defeated. Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 22:21
  • We seem to be talking at cross purposes, so sorry if I have not been clear enough. The sentence in question is factually stating that the he won the election. That is not in question, which is why I used certainly. He metaphorically demolished his opponents. Not literally, but it is not counter factual, either. The all but emphasises the metaphoric meaning and reduces the melodramatic hyperbole at the same time. It does not mean literally almost, but more as good as, making the phrase more of a simile than a metaphor... if I may criminally abuse actual grammar rules to say so. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 10:01
  • Almost would leave the sentence ambiguous as to whether he factually defeated the GOP while almost demolishing them. I hope that is clearer now. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 10:02

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