“Although” and “but” are both conjunctions, which are words that we use to glue sentences and ideas together. We specifically use these two to show a contrast or difference between ideas. Now, the question is, can we use “but” in the same sentence as “although”?
English speakers do not use “but” and “although” together because “but” is usually a coordinating conjunction, while “although” is always a subordinating conjunction. We use both to make contrasts, so using them together creates confusion as to what contrast you are trying to make.
Let’s look at the structures we use to express our ideas in English and contrast and connect these ideas with conjunctions. Understanding these will make the reason for not using “but” and “although” together much clearer.
Understand Underlying Sentence Structure
A simple sentence in English usually has a subject and a verb. The verb is the action word, while the subject is who or what is doing the action.
These are the bare minimum for sentences. We can build our ideas from there by adding objects, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, etc., to complete our ideas and express ourselves better.
Here are examples of simple sentences that only have a subject, a verb, and an object:
Let’s be more specific and use a name instead of a pronoun — “he,” “she,” “it,” “you,” “we,” “they,” and “I.” Nouns are the words we use to talk about things, people, and places. Proper nouns are actual names like America, Susan, and the East.
We now have two sentences or two ideas that are completely unrelated, or are they? The sentence doesn’t tell us who “he” is or even if “he” knows Susan, but what if they did know each other?
Let’s take our simple sentences and connect them by adding more meaning, which we will do by using conjunctions. Our conjunctions have different meanings, so our complex sentence will have more meaning.
When we want to relate ideas to each other or connect sentences, we use conjunctions — our sentence “glue.” Let’s look at the first type: coordinating conjunctions.
These coordinating, connecting words link phrases, clauses, sentences, and other words that are equal to each other. Our sentences from above are both independent clauses that make sense when they are alone, so they are equal.
Because our ideas are both strong enough to stand alone and have similar structures, we can use a coordinating conjunction to connect them.
The English language has seven coordinating conjunctions, and you can remember them by memorizing the acronym FANBOYS:
|A||And||In addition to|
Here are a few scenarios to demonstrate to you how the different conjunctions change the meaning of your sentence:
- Let’s imagine that Susan is married, and her husband is a singer:
Susan writes songs, and he sings songs. “And” adds information.
- He sings songs because Susan writes them:
Susan writes songs, so he sings songs. “So” expresses the result.
He sings songs, for Susan writes songs. “For” adds the reason.
Wait, what about the contrasting ideas that we were talking about at the beginning of this article? Let’s imagine we want to discuss the difference between what these two people do.
We will use the coordinating conjunction “but” because we use this little word to connect ideas that contrast (source).
Susan writes songs, but he sings songs. “But” indicates a difference.
The difference between these two individuals is clear — he sings, she writes.
As you can see, the conjunction we use to connect our ideas impacts the meaning of what we are communicating.
This is why it’s so vital that you understand what conjunctions mean and how we can use them correctly. Things can get rather confusing when we mix these up.
The second type of conjunction that we can use is subordinating conjunctions. This is where “although” fits in. But what is the difference between coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions?
We said that coordinating conjunctions connect independent clauses. These are groups of words that contain a subject and a verb and express a complete thought.
Dependent clauses, in contrast, do not express a complete thought and need an independent clause to make things clear. Adding “although” or “in spite of” to a single-clause sentence will create a sentence fragment (source).
Let’s look at some examples:
- Although there wasn’t enough time….
- She finished the work on time.
- In spite of all the work she had….
- She finished everything in time.
Sentences 1 and 3 are not complete because there is clearly information missing, but sentence 2 and 4 are complete ideas:
|Although there wasn’t enough time….||Dependent clause|
|She finished all the work.||Independent clause|
|Even though she had a lot of work….||Dependent clause|
|She finished everything in time.||Independent clause|
We can put these sentences together to give the dependent clauses more meaning:
- Although there wasn’t enough time, she finished all the work.
- Even though she had a lot of work, she finished in time.
As you can see, we are contrasting ideas again or introducing a surprise or unexpected idea.
The idea of not having enough time but still finishing all the work on time is clear because we have a dependent clause, an independent clause, and subordinating conjunctions — “although” and “even though.”
Since it is clear that “although” is a subordinating conjunction that indicates contrast, and “but” is a coordinating conjunction that indicates contrast, let’s see what happens when we use “but” after “although.”
- Although there wasn’t enough time, but there was a lot of work, she finished her tasks.
- Although he was tough but fair, many of his students dropped out of his class.
In the first sentence, our “but” is contrasting two ideas that are actually the same, making the sentence awkward and unnecessarily wordy. These two ideas are similar, so why would we contrast them with “but”?
The second sentence makes it difficult for the reader to determine what “although” is contrasting.
Let’s try this:
- Although there wasn’t enough time, and there was a lot of work, she finished her tasks.
- Although he was fair, many of his students dropped out of his class because he was tough.
These sentences are much easier to read and understand.
Similar to the example above, we can use a subordinate clause with “although” as a parenthetical interrupter:
- Charlie, although he loves the outdoors, rarely has the time to go out.
This also opens up the possibility of using “but” before “although” in a sentence:
- They did not want to clean the house after work, but, although they were tired, they got it done.
“But” contrasts the fact that they didn’t want to clean the house after work with the fact that they accomplished this task anyway. “Although” is part of a subordinate clause that contrasts the fact that they were tired with the fact that they got the job done.
Still, this sentence is rather complicated, and there are much easier ways to say the same thing.
It is a great idea to purchase a comprehensive dictionary to help you with the meaning of words, phrases, and how to use them correctly so that you can express yourself clearly while avoiding common mistakes.
English can get complicated, and even native speakers make mistakes, especially across different English dialects in other countries. There are just so many rules with even more exceptions to the rule that it is hard to keep up — that’s why we all have style guides and dictionaries!
One such mistake is “in spite of.” Some would call it a conjunction and spell it as one word without the “of,” i.e., “inspite.” This phrase is actually a preposition that we use in the same way as “although” or “even though,” and you need the “of”!
Commas can be quite confusing, and we all make mistakes when using them. When “But” is a coordinating conjunction that connects independent clauses containing a subject and a verb, you must use a comma.
When “but” is a subordinating conjunction and the subordinate clause comes after the independent clause, you do not use a comma.
|Dependent Clauses||Independent Clauses|
|I drink coffee but not tea.||I drink coffee, but I don’t drink tea.|
|She is married but unhappy.||She is married, but she is unhappy.|
“Although” is a subordinating conjunction that connects a dependent clause with an independent clause. The general rule is to only use commas with subordinating conjunctions when the dependent clause is at the start of the sentence.
|Although I am not good at singing, I like it.||I like singing although I am not good at it.|
|Even though I rarely get out, I love the outdoors.||I love the outdoors even though I rarely get out.|
|Although his father was away, he drove the car.||He drove the car although his father was away.|
In American English, we do not use a comma with a subordinating conjunction in the middle of a sentence when the second clause is the dependent clause (source).
We all make mistakes and are not always sure what the correct way is to say or write something, especially when the language we are using is not our first language. While English is not the most difficult language to learn, it is definitely not the easiest.
One relatively straightforward fact is that “but” and “although” have their own jobs to do in a sentence, and we almost never use them together.