Coordinating Conjunctions: “But,” FANBOYS Part 4/7

by on September 29th, 2009

This is the fourth of a short series of articles on the short list of what are known as coordinating conjunctions, short words themselves that show up very frequently in the GMAT Sentence Correction questions. Learning them can save you time, allowing you to eliminate wrong answer choices quickly and confidently; understanding them will of course also help add style and clarity to your AWA and admissions applications.  These coordinating conjunctions are often remembered by the acronym FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So); their job in a sentence is joining two or more parallel  . . . well, things in a sentence.

  1. These words can join single words (Would you like a cup of coffee or tea?);
  2. whole phrases (He plans to clean his closet today and keep his kitchen clean for the rest of the week);
  3. or entire independent clauses – things that would stand alone as complete sentences without the conjunction (I would love to try the peaches, but the fuzz gives me the chills).

The things these conjunctions connect must be the same type of thing — an adverb and another adverb, a noun and a noun, an independent clause with another independent clause.  Just as you can only add fractions when they have the same denominator, you can only use parallel parts with coordinating conjunctions.  All of these coordinating conjunctions also have at least one other job in English.

IV. BUT

But is the fourth of our FANBOYS, and will show up very often indeed.  It leads a dual life as an adverb and a conjunction, but it is in the latter form that you’ll usually see it.  But is most often used in a sentence to show opposition or concession to what has come before, though in some cases the only thing it “opposes” is the idea that what was just said is all there is to say on the subject:

  • Opposition:  They want to go to the concert, but they don’t want to pay for it.
  • Concession:  I would tell her how much peaches upset me, but she went to all the trouble of baking a peach pie for me!
  • Exception (used the way except for is used):  Test day for the GMAT worried everyone but me because of all the time I’d spent practicing.
  • Continuation of initial statement: I want you not only to go to Ireland, but also to take as many pictures as you can while you’re there.
  • Elaboration: The girls never made much money selling cookies, but stayed home watching television all summer.
  • For comparison, this is the adverbial use of but (used the way only is used):  I am but a man, and can only do so much in a day.

There are two principles rules of but that should concern you on Test Day:

  1. Rule 1: Things connected by but need to be parallel
  2. Rule 2: A part of a sentence preceded by not only on the GMAT will ALWAYS be followed by but also and part of the sentence parallel to what was after not only

Rule 1 should be familiar to you from not only the other FANBOYS, but also the many other times on the GMAT (and in English grammar) that parallelism is needed.  Perhaps this rule could have gone unstated, but we want you to get the best score you can on the GMAT.  The GMAT and parallelism should get married, they love each other so much.

A consequence of Rule 2 is that:

  • You will never see not only without but also, however you could see but also without not only.

Examples:

They’re selling not only their car, after which they intend to rely on public transportation, but also their house, after which they will live in a yurt.

As opposed to:

He’s quite wasteful with his money, but also rich enough not to care.

Note that you can easily and more concisely use and or but in place of but also.

A GMAT-style question:

The Smith’s selling their car and home will not only dramatically decrease their insurance costs on a monthly basis, it will also eliminate the two most significant non-health-related household maintenance costs.

A. will not only dramatically decrease their insurance costs on a monthly basis, it will also eliminate the two most significant

B. will dramatically not only decrease their insurance costs on a monthly basis, so it will also thus eliminate the two most significant

C. will dramatically decrease their insurance costs on a monthly basis, and also eliminate the two most significant

D. will not only dramatically decrease their insurance costs on a monthly basis, so will it also eliminate the two most significant

E. will not only dramatically decrease their insurance costs on a monthly basis, but also it will also eliminate the two most significant

In the next article we will cover: Or

Read other articles in this series:

6 comments

  • I'd like to disagree with the following statement:
    A consequence of Rule 2 is that:
    You will never see not only without but also, however you could see but also without not only.

    In OG12 Problem 64, choice B contains "do damage by themselves but also ...". Its official explanation said that "using but also without using not only is incorrect". Can someone clarify?

    • I'm sorry, I need to be more specific in these articles in the future! I should have known this would come up. There are answers that are grammatically correct (100%!!), but incorrect on the GMAT, because the GMAT Verbal is testing not only grammar but also clarity, concision, and a very specific style.

      What the Official Guide says is true - for SC. When I started writing these FANBOYS articles, I had the idea that they would be useful outside of SC . . . in your AWA for one, and in your personal statement on the application for another. It is not useful, however, when it creates confusion like this, and more readers are here for SC insights than are here for general English insights. I hope to edit this post to make it more specific when I add my next FANBOYS article (haven't edited a post yet on the new BTG). Thanks for pointing it out! I'll address topics like these in future articles more carefully.

  • Thanks for the clarification! Looking forward to the fantastic articles.

  • Knewton also teaches FANBOYS concept!! So I wonder who came first with this concept of FANBOYS - Grockit or Knewton or it's just a co-incidence?? :)

    • It's coincidence -- schoolteachers have been using FANBOYS for a very long time. The first attestation of the acronym FANBOY is in a book from 1951; FANBOYS starts showing up in the 1970s.

      Grockit and Knewton just know when to use something that works. :)

  • kinldy provide the answer to the above question....

    IMO C

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