'can but wait' vs 'can not but wait' vs 'can not help but wait'

redsalt

Member
Japanese
1: He can but wait.
2: He can not but wait.

Sentence 2 denies 1.
But both sentences have the meaning 'He waits.'
Why?
 
  • The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    "But" means something different in those sentences. In the first sentence it means "only"; in the second it means more like "except." Both sentences are unusual in contemporary English.
     

    Tommy2Sheds

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    1: He can but wait. : he can only wait
    2: He can not but wait. he can not do anything else, only wait
    Usually you will find it without a gap: He cannot but wait. This is a bit more archaic or poetic, but with a gap it looks awkward .
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Type 1 may be heard idiomatically in 'We can but try': We might as well try, we have nothing to lose by trying. Otherwise they're unlikely to be used.
     

    redsalt

    Member
    Japanese
    [Threads merged at this point. DonnyB - moderator]
    1: He can not but wait.
    2: He can not help but wait.

    'Help' in Sentence 2 means 'avoid'.
    But both sentences have the meaning 'He waits.'
    Why?
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    we can but wait = all we can do is wait
    I cannot but wonder where he is now = I can’t help wondering where he is now
     

    Tommy2Sheds

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    The structure "He can not but..." "He cannot but..." "He can but..." "He can not help but..." all mean the same thing, that there is nothing else he can do. There is no logic to this, it is just a common phrase (slightly archaic now).
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top