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dàn shì
conj. but
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This post is about these three similar conjunctions: 但是、只是 and 不过
All of these three conjunctions indicate transition (a turn in the course of events). What are their differences? They put emphasis on different part of the sentence.
- 但是 indicates an event or a situation is opposite to the expected or the normal. The emphasis lands on the part which comes after 但是. For example, the sentence below is trying to emphasise the fact that “我会努力”.
E.g. 1 汉语很难,但是我会努力。 [phr] Chinese is difficult, but I will try hard (in learning the language).

- 只是 indicates a slight transition. Its emphasis is on the part of the sentence that comes before 只是. 只是 is followed by an additional explanation to the event or situation of the previous sentence. Take a look at the sentence below, what the speaker is mainly trying to say is the first part of the sentence “他的优点有的是”. 只是 is followed by a much less important explanation “你没有发现(他的优点)”.
E.g. 2他的优点有的是,只是你没有发现。 [phr] He has plenty of advantages, but you just can't find any of them.

- 不过 indicates transition too, and it’s followed by an additional explanation to the event or situation of the first sentence. But the emphasis is put on both parts before and after 不过.
E.g. 3 他很优秀,不过不符合公司的招聘条件。 [phr] He is outstanding, but he does not fit the hiring conditions of the company.
但是 is often paired with 虽然 to form a subordinate complex sentence. 虽然 leads the subordinate clause, and 但是, the main clause.
E.g. 他虽然不聪明,但是学习非常努力。 [phr] Although he is not smart, he studies really hard.
There's not so much of a difference between 但是 and 可是. In most cases, they are interchangeable.
1. 虽然...,但是... In this structure, 但是 is more often used than 可是
2. 但是 and 可是 are both transitional words, but 但是 carries a stronger tone. When the speaker is more sure or more confident, 但是 is used. When the speaker is not quite sure, but still wants to express transition, 可是 is used.
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