I have started book reading habit for improving my English. I have started with the novel Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl as I have been told that the novel will be easy for me to understand, however I am finding it hard from the chapter 1 itself. Below is the paragraph from chapter 1 and I am not able to understand the use of 'but' in below clause, highlighted in bold. My understanding about but is that it is commonly used to indicate contrast or exception but I am not able to correlate contrast or exception in below highlighted clause.

We lived in an old gipsy caravan behind a filling-station. My father owned the filling-station and the caravan and a small field behind, but that was about all he owned in the world. It was a very small filling-station on a small country road surrounded by fields and woody hills.

Please help me to understand it.

  • 3
    This seems like a pretty standard "dictionary definition" use of but: "1a: except for the fact", or maybe preposition "1b: other than". I think your understanding of but might just be too limiting.
    – stangdon
    May 18, 2023 at 19:56
  • Means the same as "however", if that helps
    – gotube
    May 19, 2023 at 4:09

2 Answers 2


The contrast here is based on the idea that on reading the first part of the sentence -- i.e., that the father owned the filling station, and the caravan and land -- we might initially get that impression that the father is a wealthy man. The clause beginning with "but" then corrects that impression. Written out more explicitly you might have:

My father owned the filling-station and the caravan and a small field behind. Now, that may make one think he was a wealthy man, BUT in fact those were about all he owned in the world.

Some other examples:

The most common surname in the world is "Wang", but it is relatively uncommon in the US or Europe.

The mean personal wealth in the US is just over $0.5M, but about half the population own less than $100K.

The hobbits ate of the feast until they were stuffed, but Pippin still found room to "fill up the corners".

  • Can I get any other sentence having similar use of but ?
    – novice
    May 19, 2023 at 10:24
  • I've added some to the answer.
    – tkp
    May 19, 2023 at 18:51

There seems to be pretty clear and simple contrast:

  1. He owned .... (some things).
  2. He did not own anything else.

The two parts are contrasting because one is a positive statement about ownership and the other is a negative statement about ownership.

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