The Grammarphobia Blog

You’re everything but mine

Q: English is my second language and I really love it, but I can’t understand some things. For example, I don’t see the point of this song lyric: “You’re everything but mine.” Does it mean “You’re all mine” or “You’re everything but not mine”? I checked my grammar notes and I couldn’t find an explanation of this usage of the conjunction “but.” I need help..

A: I can see why you’re confused. “But” is a tricky little word that can be either a conjunction or a preposition. As a conjunction, it expresses opposition or contradiction. As a preposition, it means, among other things, except.

In that lyric from the Backstreet Boys’ song “Everything But Mine,” it can be a conjunction or a preposition, depending on how you look at the sentence.

If it’s a conjunction, the Backstreet Boys are saying, “You’re everything, but you’re not mine.” (The words “you’re not” are understood though not actually present.)

If it’s a preposition, the group is saying, “You’re everything except mine.” (In other words, “You’re everything with the exception of being mine.)

By the way, the word “but” has been both a conjunction and a preposition for a thousand years or more. Which came first? The preposition.

I hope this helps!

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