"It did nothing but make us ridiculous."

It means : "It did nothing but It did make us ridiculous."

Here, 'but' seems to be a conjunction.

But I know, 'but' is a preposition (meaning 'except') in the phrase 'nothing but'!

Again, if 'but' is a preposition, the verb following it should be in -ing from. But here the verb is in the base from - 'make'!

Then, what is the parts of speech of 'but' in the phrase "nothing but"?

  • 1
    But means except here too. Your sentence means It did nothing except make us ridiculous. May 2, 2020 at 16:44
  • @Kate Bunting, how can the base from of a verb [make] be used after a preposition (but/except)? May 2, 2020 at 17:44
  • 2
    The preposition "but" can take every kind of non-finite clause as complement, just as "except" can.
    – BillJ
    May 2, 2020 at 18:23
  • 2
    There is nothing any of us can do except/but be cautious (bare infinitival); I don't intend to do anything except/but to wait for news (to-infinitival); I can't think what to advise except/but staying home (gerund-participial). In those examples, "but" is semantically close to "except.
    – BillJ
    May 3, 2020 at 6:48
  • 2
    Incidentally, the PPs are licensed by the clauses containing them. This means that the verb preceding the PP may be instrumental in determining the form of the non-finite clause.
    – BillJ
    May 3, 2020 at 8:29

1 Answer 1


Like the others mentioned, the 'but' in 'nothing but' is basically a synonym for 'except'. So the sentence would be 'It did nothing except make us ridiculous'. Using 'but' instead of 'except' does not change the meaning of the sentence whatsoever. English speakers use 'but' as that is a more common word and easier to say.

  • How should I know whether 'but' takes infinitival or gerundial nonfinite clause after it? May 2, 2020 at 20:53
  • It's one of those things that you just learn by speaking the language. May 2, 2020 at 20:54
  • I would like to know if there is some grammatical rule about it. May 3, 2020 at 6:17
  • I wouldn't be able to help you with that. I'm sorry Oct 3, 2020 at 5:40

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