I abstract this broader question from this. I know that as a preposition, but = Except; apart from; other than. 1. Do the following 2 definitions of all but, contradict each other?
2. How do you determine/deduce the right meaning between <1> and <2>?

<1>. Very nearly           <2>. All except

Update Oct 30 2014: User StoneyB answered that all but 'embraces WHATEVER falls short of entirety'. But WHATEVER implies every notch in his scale above forgotten (in his pink box in quotations),
so does this extensiveness contradict <1> (ie: very nearly),
and user Dan Bron's Oct 26 comment (ie: all but = just short of) ?

I tried https://ell.stackexchange.com/a/10671/8712 and the following on ELU but remain mystified:
“to be all but X” | the 2 paras under 'She was all but killed by the assassin.' | “He all but [did something]” | “All but” idiom has two meanings? | “All but convinced” as a way of saying that one is, in fact, convinced?.

  • @LePress, that you? Both are perfectly correct, and no, they are not contradictory; those are two ways of expressing the idea that something is just short of complete.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 11:15
  • @DanBron: Thanks, yes. Would you please explain if your comment consists with StoneyB's answer below? It states that all but whatever falls short of entirety, but how short can it be?
    – user8712
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 9:29
  • @Up, don't ask me to say why, but you want to construct that question as "Is your answer consistent with ...", not "consists with". In re: "how short": we're dealing with a figure of speech here, not a quantitative measurement, so "exactly how short" is, of course, unspecified. But the implication is often "very short", or, indeed, the minimum amount. But context will determine in specific cases.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 11:00
  • @Up, if you like this concept, and want to upvote it, why not upvote and accept Stoney's answer? He's saying the same thing, with greater detail and better support.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 12:23
  • @DanBron In fact, your answer differs from user StoneyB's? You wrote the implication is often "very short", so you're referring to forgotten by almost everybody (StoneyB). Yet StoneyB says that all but includes every scale in his answer except the most extreme forgotten? This broadness contradicts the ODO's definition very nearly above?
    – user8712
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 13:21

2 Answers 2


There's no contradiction here. Think of the adjective in all but + any adjective as occupying the last notch in an implicit scale:

forgotten by nobody
forgotten by almost nobody
forgotten by some
forgotten by many
forgotten by most
forgotten by almost everybody

All but forgotten is a sort of 'hedge' which excludes the last term. It thus signifies a reluctance to say that whatever-it-is is entirely forgotten, but embraces whatever falls short of entirety.

  • Thank you. Would you please elucidate falls short of entirety? How short can it be? Anything above and including forgotten by almost everybody? Yet I interpret user Dan Bron's comment to suggest justforgotten by almost everybody, but please advise if I erred.
    – user8712
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 9:30
  • @UpvoteLawArea51Proposal I'll leave it as is. Whatever is whatever. Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 12:10
  • Thank you again. I apologise for bothering you again, but would whatever (in your answer) contradict and exceed ODO's definition 1: very nearly?
    – user8712
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 12:21
  • @UpvoteLawArea51Proposal Nope. Very nearly entails not entirely. Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 12:22
  • Thank you again. I agree with your last comment. Yet whatever falls short of entirety includes every scale in your answer except the most extreme forgotten, right? This broadness contradicts very nearly?
    – user8712
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 12:23

"All but forgotten" -- forgotten by nearly everyone; on the brink of being forgotten.

"All but one" -- except for one.

You can determine the meaning by looking to see if the relevant word after "but" is a noun|pronoun or a past-participle.

Before the use of DDT was banned, birds of prey had all but *disappeared* from this area.

The megabat is extinct, all but a *few* extant *frugivores*.

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