Specific usage of the word ‘but’

The Aesop’s Fables translated by George Fyler Townsend book has a line which reads as follows:

… If you had but touched me, my friend, you …

I’ve seen the word ‘but’ used this way a couple of times, but I’m not sure I understand the meaning of this phrase correctly. What is the general rule for using ‘but’ this way?


In the fragment

… If you had but touched me, my friend, you …

but functions as an adverb whose definition, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd Edition) is

no more than; only

Thus, your example could very well read

  • … If only you had touched me, my friend, you …

Other examples:

  • I am but a mere mortal.
  • He is but a child.
  • That was but a distant memory.

This usage of but, though, is largely restricted to formal or literary contexts.

Source : Link , Question Author : martinthenext , Answer Author : Jimi Oke

Leave a Comment