all but, everything but, anything but

andersxman

Senior Member
Denmark/danish
The above collocations can cause difficulties at times.

"All but": nearly ("he's all but sleeping" = "he's nearly sleeping")

"He's everything but sleeping" = as above (he's nearly sleeping)

"anything but" = not at all.

"He's anything but sleeping" = "He's wide awake."

I don't know if I've grasped this correctly? Do other similar constructions exist in english?
 
  • elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I wouldn't really use any of these with "sleeping." However, if someone were to say the sentences you give here's what I'd understand them to mean:

    andersxman said:
    "All but": nearly ("he's all but sleeping" = "he's nearly sleeping") :cross:
    For all intents and purposes, he's sleeping. For example,
    His eyes are barely open. He's got his head slunk down onto the side of his chair. He's obviously not paying any attention to what's going on around him. He's all but sleeping.

    "He's everything but sleeping" = as above (he's nearly sleeping) :cross:
    He's not sleeping at all.
    "everything but" = "anything but"

    "anything but" = not at all. :tick:

    "He's anything but sleeping" = "He's wide awake." :tick:
    As I said, using these expressions with "sleeping" is awkward. At the very least I would have said "asleep."

    He's all but asleep.
    He's everything but asleep.
    He's anything but asleep.

    The above sound better to me.

    Nevertheless, I hope to have helped you understand what the expressions mean. Here are some more examples:

    He does everything she asks him to do. If he has plans that conflict with hers, he'll change his plans for her. He never does anything against her will. He's all but her slave.
    (= he is pretty much her slave; although he's technically not her slave, he may as well be)

    He never goes out of his way to do anything for her. He doesn't do what she asks him to do if he doesn't feel like it. He's everything/anything but her slave.
    (= he is not her slave at all; the last thing he is is her slave)

    It occurs to me that I prefer "anything but" to "everything but."
     

    -ness

    New Member
    Korean
    This thread is from ages ago, I realize, but I believe the above poster is incorrect. Don't 'everything but' and 'anything but' have exact opposite meanings?

    He sounds anything but foolish = He sounds everything opposite foolish (intelligent).

    He sounds everything but foolish = He sounds very nearly foolish (dumb).
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I think if you look at Elroy's examples for "anything but" and "everything but", you'll see that the sentences are opposites.

    "He sounds everything but foolish" sounds very odd to me.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Actually, I said that "all but" and "anything but" were opposites, and that "everything but" meant the same thing as "anything but." I don't actually use "everything but" actively except with a literal meaning ("everything except"), but I would understand it to mean "anything but" and not "all but." A quick Google search confirms that that is how it is used.
     

    -ness

    New Member
    Korean
    I think I understand that point, that "all but" and "anything but" are opposite, but I'd always thought, in that case, that "all but" and "everything but" are the same. 'All' and 'everything', after all, basically have the same meaning, so would it not follow?

    It does sound awkward...but if one said, "She had everything but a heart attack," wouldn't that imply that she had everything associated with a heart attack other than having the heart attack itself? And if one said, "She had anything but a heart attack," it would imply that she had nothing close to a heart attack. I'm sorry I'm nagging at this so much, but this confuses me a bit and I'd like to understand.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    "She had everything but a heart attack" is not a sentence I would normally expect to hear. The only context I can imagine it working in is one in which a series of illnesses/conditions/medical episodes are mentioned or referred to somehow, and the person is saying that she experienced all of those things except for a heart attack - which is the literal meaning of "everything but." I would not interpret the statement to mean that she came close to having a heart attack but did not have one.

    "All" and "everything" do have similar meanings, but as far as I'm concerned, "all but" and "everything but" are not the same.
     
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