But 但 and but 卻 – Essential Chinese Vocabulary

When learning new words it’s often good to compare them to other similar words in order to extract the subtle meanings of each and the ways in which they can be used. As your Chinese improves, using the right word at the right time becomes more important, so we’ll focus more on comparisons like this in coming posts.

The following two characters are interesting because on the face of it they have the same meaning, yet in usage they are sometimes interchangeable, sometimes used in the same sentence, and at other times they can even appear right next to each other.

但(但)

Pinyin: dàn
English: but; however

卻(却)

Pinyin: què
English: however; yet; nevertheless; actually

但...卻...

Examples

Here are two examples that show how you might use both of these words in a normal sentence.

我喜歡騎腳踏車,他喜歡慢跑(我喜欢骑脚踏车,他喜欢慢跑)
wǒ xǐhuān qí jiǎotàchē, dàn tā xǐhuān mànpǎo
I like cycling, but he likes jogging

我喜歡騎腳踏車,他喜歡慢跑(我喜欢骑脚踏车,他却喜欢慢跑)
wǒ xǐhuān qí jiǎotàchē, tā què xǐhuān mànpǎo
I like cycling, he, however, likes jogging

Both of these examples have exactly the same result, they draw a contrast between what the first and second person like – cycling and jogging respectively. As mentioned above, these two words can also be used together in a sentence:

我喜歡騎腳踏車,喜歡慢跑(我喜欢骑脚踏车,喜欢慢跑)
wǒ xǐhuān qí jiǎotàchē, dànquè xǐhuān mànpǎo
I like cycling, but he, however, likes jogging

Here’s another example that shows the same style of usage:

Traditional
美式咖啡的咖啡因含量較一般的咖啡來得高,但是它的熱量非常低
Simplified
美式咖啡的咖啡因含量较一般的咖啡来得高,但是它的热量非常低
Pinyin
měishì kāfēi de kāfēiyīn hánliàng jiào yībān de kāfēi láide gāo, dànshì tā de rèliàng què fēicháng dī
English
The quantity of caffeine in Americano coffee is more than other coffees, but it actually has fewer calories.

So how can both of these words be used next to each other in a sentence? Here’s a couple of examples found on the web:

最無聊、最白癡、最低級但卻一定要玩的iPhone應用程式(最无聊、最白痴、最低级但却一定要玩的iPhone应用程式)
zuì wúliáo, zuì báichī, zuì dījí dàn què yīdìng yào wán de iPhone yìngyòngchéngshì
The most boring, most idiotic, most vulgar but still must-play iPhone apps

網路有連線但卻無法上網(网路有连线但却无法上网)
wǎnglù yǒu liánxiàn dàn què wúfǎ shàng wǎng
The internet is connected but there’s still no way to get online

Further Examples

And some more random examples of how 但 and 卻 are being used:

有些人也投資了效果不好(有些人也投资了效果不好)
yǒu xiē rén tóuzī le,dàn xiàoguǒ què bù hǎo
Some people invested, but the result was still the same

歐洲度過了關鍵一周,連日的市場反應顯得小心翼翼(欧洲度过了关键一周,连日的市场反应显得小心翼翼)
ōuzhōu dùguò le guānjiàn yī zhōu, liánrì de shìchǎng fǎnyìng què xiǎnde xiǎoxīnyìyì
Europe has got through an important (a key) week, but the market reaction is cautious

If you have an example that might further clarify how to use these words then please post it below in the comments!

  • I think the most important thing to remember when using 卻 is that it must go after the subject. Right?

    E.g. you can’t say 卻我…, you must say 我卻…

  • Nice explanation and examples on the usage of these tricky words.

    Although one could 彈 (tap on or strum) a violin like a guitar, usually, we say 拉提琴.

  • Justin

    Hello,

    I was just wondering if you could give another example with 較? I’m still uncertain how to use it properly in sentences.