You can never be in this forest but some evil power will overpower your senses.

I found this but it doesn't make much sense grammatically. How can I dissect this?

1 Answer 1


I am not surprised this use of but confuses you; it is pretty rare today with full clauses, and I suspect it is used here to give an archaic or 'fairy-tale' air to the story.

You have probably encountered but joining two NPs, of which the first is negative and the second positive; here but has the approximate sense “except”:

We have [NP- no choice] but [NP+ compliance]. = We cannot do anything except comply.

The construction at hand is similar. Here but joins two clauses of which the first contains a negation, and acts as a subordinating conjunction with the approximate sense without. “Negative A but B” may be paraphrased as “No A without B” or “Whenever A always B”. For instance, Hamlet's statement “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” may be represented as

[Negative No-] [A thing is good or bad] but [B thinking makes it so]

which may be paraphrased (with appropriate adjustments) as

No [A thing is good or bad] without [B thinking making it so]
Whenever [A a thing is good or bad] [B thinking has always made it so].

Your sentence, then, may be paraphrased

You can never be in this forest without some evil power overpowering your senses. or
Whenever you are in this forest some evil power will always overpower your senses.

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