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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Except (for), besides, apart from and but for

  • We use of except for to introduce the only thing (or things) or a person (or people) that the main part of the sentence doesn’t include:
·         I had no money to give him except (for) the few coins in my pocket.
·         The price of the holiday includes all meals except (for) lunch.
·         Everyone seemed to have been invited except (for) Mrs. Woodford and me.
However, we use except for rather than except to show that a general statement made in the main part of the sentence is not completely true:
·         The car was damaged in the accident, except for a broken headlight.
·         The room was completely dark except for light coming under the door.
·         Except for the weather, the holiday couldn’t have been better

We use except, not except for, before prepositions, to-infinitives, bare infinitives and that clauses (although the word that may be left out:
·         There is likely to be rain everywhere today except in Scotland.
·         I rarely need to go into the city centre except to do some shopping.
·         There is nothing more the doctor can do except keep an eye on him.
·         They look just like the real thing, except that they are made of plastic.
  • Compare except (for) and besides in these sentences:
·         I don’t enjoy watching any sports except (for) cricket. (= I enjoy only cricket).
·         Besides cricket, I enjoy watching football and basketball. (= I enjoy three sports).
·         I haven’t read anything written by her, except (for) one of her short stories.
·         Besides her novels and poems, she published a number of short stories.
We use except (for) to mean ‘with the exception of’, but we use besides to mean ‘as well as’ or ‘in addition to’.
We can use apart from instead of except (for) and besides:
·         I don’t enjoy watching any sports apart from cricket. (= except for).
·         Apart from cricket, I enjoy watching football and basketball. (= besides; as well as).
  • We can use but with similar meaning to except (for), particularly after negative words such as no, nobody, and nothing:
·         Immediately after the operation he could see nothing but / except (for) / apart from vague shadows.
·         There was no way out but / except / apart upwards, towards the light.
But for has a different meaning from except for. When we use but for we introduce a negative idea, saying what might have happened if other things had not happened:
·         The country would now be self-sufficient in food but for the drought last year. (= if it hadn’t been for the drought…)
·         But for his broken leg he would probably have been picked for the national team by now. (= if it hadn’t been for his broken leg…)
However, some people use except for in the same way as but for, particularly in spoken English. In formal writing it is better to use but for to introduce a negative idea and except for to introduce an exception.

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