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Which of the following sentence is grammatically (more) correct?

It's not your problem but your friend's.

It's not your problem but your friend's instead.

  • 1
    The first is fine. I think I need more context to say whether instead is wrong/weird here. – shawnt00 Jul 30 '16 at 4:00
  • @shawnt00: totally agree, 1up – virolino Feb 6 at 5:56
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There are myriad ways in which you can phrase these and it would be grammatically correct, although awkward. Both of your examples are correct, but they would strike me as a rather clunky way to get your meaning across.

I would suggest the following, which is based on my own experience as a native speaker. It omits both "but" and "instead" and relies on the form for emphasis.

It's not your problem-- it's your friend's.

Depending on whether you want to emphasize the positive or negative aspect of the sentence, you can invert it, as in this example:

That's my toothbrush-- not yours.

In most cases, you can flip it either way without issue:

  • His cat's a Burmese-- not a Turkish Van.

  • His cat's not a Turkish Van-- it's a Burmese.

This will sound more natural and idiomatic to most speakers, at least in American English. I would love to know if other users have a different opinion.

Quick Note:

I've used dashes here to link the clauses of each sentence. This seems correct to me because the sentences have a corrective, interruptive quality. In my experience, native speakers are not always keen on the punctuation rules with commas (,), colons (:), semi-colons (;), and dashes (--). Disagreements over proper usage can sometimes create opposing camps (e.g. the Oxford comma).

For what it's worth, I would say that you could substitute each dash (--) with a semi-colon (;) and the meaning would be largely the same, if a bit less emphatic.

  • 1
    I like dashes! They are simple and effective, and don't have you stumbling upon them like semicolons often do. BTW, there are two of them—en-dash and em-dash. – Michael Login Aug 19 '17 at 8:15
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Neither sentence is great, but I would say that the first sounds better. However, I would use something like this, instead:

It's not your problem but, rather, your friend's.

(Note that my commas might be misplaced.)

Rather works better here stylistically than "instead".

  • My question is not about stylistic correctness but grammatical correctness (instead?). :P – 7_R3X Apr 30 '16 at 16:27
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    @7_R3X they're both fine, grammatically. – ostrichofevil Apr 30 '16 at 16:28
  • I prefer the OP's version to yours. For what it's worth, I would say: "It's not your problem, it's your friend's problem." – TonyK Aug 16 '18 at 20:19
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They are both correct. Adding "instead" just amplifies the contrast being made about whose problem it is.

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  • "instead" is used to speak about something done or existing in place of another thing meant to be done or existing (as an alternative).
  • "but" as a conjunction is used in contrast to what has already been mentioned.

You can use them together when "but" and "instead" don't form the same idea in a sentence:

  • You needed to go to the hospital but instead you went to the cinema. (in contrast to going to the hospital as an alternative you chose to go to the cinema)

Your sentence doesn't seem to work that pattern and it sounds a little bit odd with possession (to me). However, I don't see anything ungrammatical about it.

  • It's not your problem but your friend's instead. (in contrast to not being your problem as an alternative it was that of your friend's)

It would be much better to say, "It's your friend's problem, not yours.".

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