'But' is a conjunction to express a contrast between two ideas. Incomplete sentences allow us to omit information without changing the intended meaning. This makes it difficult to identify the correct meaning.
Provided are the following examples:
- 'tis but a scratch
- I am but a small voice
Only one idea is given in each sentence. What is the correct meaning?
'tis but a scratch
I would assume it means "this is anything except a scratch" because, since this information is omitted, no matter what it is it isn't a scratch. This interpretation does not match with the context where I've seen it used so far. On the contrary, it seems to mean that "this wound is only a scratch".
I am but a small voice
I am but a small voice is a message in the song from Roger Whittaker.
Using the same approach it could mean I am not a small voice (no matter what I am). A small voice means it's sound is low. It is often synonymous to the inner voice that I can only hear myself. In the context of Roger Whittaker's work "I am but a small voice" means to have a big audience and the words are reaching everyone, because we are all the same and singing his song with one voice.
Or, perhaps "I am but a small voice" is the contrast between "I am a small voice" and "We are a big voice"?