What Is the Meaning of “All But”?

“All but” is an adverb phrase that refers to “almost everything/everyone except,” “on the verge of,” “everything/everyone aside from” or “nearly everything/everyone.” Therefore, you must exercise caution and nuance with this to avoid awkwardness.

But, the good news is, understanding the times for its appropriate use is not difficult to remember. Of course, context will play a big role in how you define “all but.” Regardless, it will be an adverbial phrase to modify a verb or noun.

“All But” in a Sentence

Because “all but” can take on various definitions depending on the context, it’s best to jump right into the different ways you can use it.

  • “On the Verge of” – I’m almost finished with this essay; all but the formatting and typesetting.
  • “Almost Everything/Everyone Except” – We planted all but the daisies in the garden.
  • “Nearly Everything/Everyone” – My day never goes as planned, all but my morning coffee.
  • “Everything/Everyone Aside from”All but the children are on time for the field trip.

Mnemonic Device

To ensure you’re using “all but” correctly, you can replace it with the other words or phrases it infers. In other words, you can think of it as a succinct way of saying something is close but not quite yet there. However, you will have to change the verb to show grammatical agreement.

All but the children are on time for the field trip. [meaning “almost everyone aside from” or “nearly everyone except”]

Almost everyone aside from the children is on time for the field trip.

Nearly everyone except the children is on time for the field trip.

Awkward Use of “All But”

“All but” can sound awkward if you aren’t careful. Consider the example below and use the mnemonic device for comparison.

Sandy all but mentioned how she came to those conclusions.

Sandy nearly everything except mentioned how she came to those conclusions.

Per the example, it’s unclear what Sandy did in relation to mentioning “how she came to those conclusions.” So, if the implication is that Sandy talked about everything except for her conclusions, then:

Sandy mentioned all but how she came to those conclusions.


“All but” refers to someone or something almost or nearly achieving a goal or reaching a destination. It can also encompass an exception or single circumstance offset from the rest of a group, idea or project.