A: You probably do that a lot, don't you?

B: I do nothing but!

Does that ellipsis in B's answer sound correct?


It may sound a little clipped to a non-native, but there's nothing wrong with it. It's only really eliding one word:

You probably do that a lot, don't you?

I do nothing but [that]!

As the object (that) is obvious from context, it isn't strictly necessary to include it in the sentence and it can be elided safely.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    As John Cifford's answer says, you could get away with this, but I wouldn't overuse it. Also, for this construct to work verbally, the exclamation mark is important, and there's a rather heavy emphasis on the last word: “I do nothing but!” (If you emphasized the word nothing instead, the sentence wouldn't sound correct with just the "but" at the end; it would sound like your thought train was interrupted mid-sentence.) – J.R. Apr 23 '16 at 9:59

Here in this context that but at the end of the sentence might take a NP as ellipsis,like this -

  • I do nothing but (that).

But that is not always the case. Let me quote from Fowler's Modern English Usage -

but at end of sentence -

One of the most surprising and largely uncharted modern uses of but is its occurrence as a qualifying adverb at the end of sentences. Taking a lead from the Scots and the Irish, not-quite-standard speakers in Australia, in some parts of South Africa, and perhaps elsewhere provide evidence of this construction which has not yet entered the standard English of England:

  • 'He should have left the key with me,' she said. 'I'm his wife.' 'I didn't ask for it, but.'-M. Richler, 1980 (Canad.)

  • 'I been waiting round for years and years and I still don't know what it is, but.'-M. Eldridge, 1984 (Aust.)

  • Yes, I told 'im. Not the whole of it, but.'— D. Malouf, 1985 (Aust.);

  • "That was a lovely cat, but' [ = that was a truly lovely cat] — R. Mesthrie, 1987 (SAfr.);

This article provides some more info, and its meaning -

  • contrastive meaning ('though')

  • intensive meaning ('really')

  • in most of the cases, a particle used for interactive reasons to show the other speaker he/she can speak.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.