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Do the following sentences sound natural?

  1. But I didn’t know that then, although I learned it later.

  2. I tried doing the accounts, but although I knew some maths I found it very difficult.

I kind of think sentence 1 is not natural because "but" is at the beginning of the sentence and there is also "although". What is your opinion?

  • why do you think so? – Maulik V Jul 29 '14 at 8:26
  • Maybe because "but" is at the beginning in sentence one. Do you think both the two sentences are natural? – April Jul 29 '14 at 8:57
  • Not just but, although is also an extra word to me. I didn't know that then, I learned it later. But let the natives come and put light on it. – Maulik V Jul 29 '14 at 9:17
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    I'm completely baffled by the fact that apparently three users have closevoted this as "proofreading". The OP clearly sets out the cause for concern (there's something "unusual" about starting an utterance with but). And this directly relates to a genuine difference between how the two oppositional conjunctions can be used, even though in some contexts they're synonymous and interchangeable. I think this is a good question that deserves to be upvoted, not closed. – FumbleFingers Jul 29 '14 at 18:49
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    You miss commas separating the clauses. I tried doing the accounts, but, although I knew some maths, I found it very difficult. The clause although I knew some maths is an interjection, and you need to separate it from the clause into which it's inserted (but I found it very difficult) using commas. – SF. Jul 29 '14 at 20:18
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The only reason OP's example #1 might seem "odd" is because we don't have the full context.

It's effectively meaningless to start a conversation or text with but, because this particular "contrastive conjunction" almost always applies to something previously mentioned. Thus, sentence #1 is perfectly natural as a response in the following...

"You should have told me you had Aids when we first met!"
"But I didn't know that then, although I learned it later and have been meaning to tell you for a while"

...where but contrasts with the preceding utterance by the other speaker, and although contrasts with the first part of the second speaker's utterance.

In OP's example #2, again, but contrasts with the preceding statement. But in this case, both the elements being contrasted by although come after the conjunction.


It's just about possible to start a "conversation/text" with but (you open the door to someone you weren't expecting to see, and exclaim "But what are you doing here?"), but that's an unusual/poetic/dated usage. In general, but always applies to something previously specified, whereas although can optionally be moved before its referent...

"My dog likes chocolate although it could kill him if he eats too much" 1
...is equivalent to...
"Although my dog likes chocolate it could kill him if he eats too much"

Hopefully that shows how although can be placed in different positions. And if a previous speaker had said "Any animal instinctively knows and seeks out the food its body needs to remain healthy", either of those last two examples could be preceded by but (introducing a refutation).


1 In this (but not the following) example, either conjunction works...
"My dog likes chocolate but it could kill him if he eats too much"

-1

Sentence 2 is fine.

As you suspect, sentence 1 isn't quite right, because the although is redundant. You can have either but or although in either place, but not both in the same sentence without it sounding odd.

  • Any reason for the down vote? – user8543 Jul 29 '14 at 17:32
  • It's my downvote, as explained by the answer I've just posted. Specifically, there's nothing wrong with OP's example #2, and although is not "redundant" (it contrasts I found it difficult although I knew some maths), whereas but contrasts I tried doing the accounts with the remainder of the sentence. – FumbleFingers Jul 30 '14 at 11:43

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