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anything but, nothing less/more than, more often than not etc.
I would like to know ""why"" the following phrases have such meanings:

- anything but (= definitely not)
-"everything but" (= definitely not)
Does "anything" mean "everything" here? But anything is used with not, like "I don't have anything". So it seems to mean nothing.
I know "But" here is served to mean an exception.

- no/nothing less than (=competely, exactly, surely)
- no/nothing more than (=only, just)
The above means "the same or more than something/that" and "not more than something/that" respectively and literally.
But I can't figure out why "the same or more than something/that" means the same as "completely/exactly/surely".
Why "not more than something/that" = "only/just"?

- more often than not (=meaning??)
I'm confused if the phrase the frequency of "more often than not" is any of the following:
- between "usually" and "often"
- over "usually"
- more or less the same as "usually"

And why does the above mean like that?
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Comments  
everything but = everything except
nothing but = nothing except

Our restaurant has the best service in town. We do everything but butter the customers' toast! (We do A and B and C and D and..., but we do not butter the customers' toast. Buttering the customers' toast is the only thing we do not do.)

According to Melissa the whole world is falling apart. She does nothing but complain. (She does not do A nor B nor C nor D nor..., but she does complain. Complaining is the only thing she does.)

nothing more than
nothing less than

Jane has never won the lottery. Her plans for spending her lottery winnings are nothing more than fantasies.
(Her plans are only fantasies. They do not rise above the level of fantasy (are not more real than fantasy)).

We were startled by a loud sound. It seemed as though burglars were breaking into the house. On investigation, it turned out to be nothing more than a cat that had knocked over a lamp. (It was only a cat. The situation was not as serious as a break-in. It was only as serious as a noise made by a cat.)

When it comes to the quality of vegetables, Marie is very fussy. She accepts nothing less than the best carrots, beans, and corn she can find. (Marie will buy only the best in vegetables. She rejects vegetables which do not rise to her high standards.)

no more than
no less/fewer than

The instructor will repeat the example sentence no more than three times.
(He may repeat it once, twice, or three times, but he will not repeat it four or more times.)

I receive no more than a few e-mails every day. (I don't receive a lot of e-mails, just a few. Sometimes I don't receive any. I never receive a lot.)

I forgot to buy soap, so I had to go out again. Then I forgot the milk, so I had to go out again. The whole day was like that. By the end of the day I had made no fewer than seven trips to the grocery store! (I'm emphasizing how ridiculous it was, and how I believe that seven was a very high number for such an undertaking. I do this by adding "no fewer than", which is unnecessary, strictly speaking.)

In the context of negation or interrogation:
anything but = anything except
anything more than
anything less than

-- Would you like some bread with your steak? How about some potatoes? A salad, maybe?
-- No. I don't want anything but the steak. (I want nothing but the steak.)

It was somewhat cloudy that night, so the astronomers couldn't see anything more than a few stars and a fuzzy-looking moon. (They could see nothing more than a few stars .... That was the most they could see because of the clouds.)

Peter ended up paying a fortune for that coat. Unfortunately, he couldn't find anything less expensive. (He could find nothing less expensive.)

In the context of affirmation:
anything but = anything except
anything more than
anything less than

-- If you don't pay the damages, I shall have to notify my lawyer.
-- No, no! Anything but that! (The "No, no!" negates the notifying of the lawyer. It does not create a context of negation for the sentence that follows. -- No matter what you do, (please) do not notify your lawyer. Notifying your lawyer is the one thing I am not willing to suffer because of the situation.)

We'll give them $50 a month for doing the gardening, or even less, if we can arrange it. For such a small yard, anything more than $50 would be too much.
(No matter what amount the gardener suggests, if it is more than $50, we will consider it too much.)

I have already eaten too much. If I eat anything more than what I have already eaten, I'm afraid I will explode. (It doesn't matter what I eat in addition to what I have already eaten. No matter what it might be, I'm afraid I will explode.)

Give the waiter at least $3 as a tip. Anything less than that would be insulting. (No matter what amount you give the waiter, if it is less than $3, he will probably feel insulted.)
___________

"more often than not" can be taken literally.
Of twenty times that some action might occur, suppose it actually occurs 11 times and does not occur 9 times. In this case the action occurs more often than not, i.e., the number of times it occurs is greater than the number of times it does not occur. If it occurs 19 times out of 20, then it also occurs more often than not in this case.

We all know that Fred is late more often than not! (most of the time)
My eyes have become worse over the years. Lately, I need my reading glasses more often than not. (most of the time)
Emotion: smile
Hi. thank you so much for your help.
It is in great details!!Emotion: smile



Her plans for spending her lottery winnings are nothing more than fantasies.

Is it possible for me to use no more than instead?

Marie is very fussy. She accepts nothing less than the best carrots, beans, and corn she can find

Can an I use no less than instead?

Is it true that:
(For the sense of just) anything more than = nothing more than = no more than
(For the sense of completely) anything less than = nothing less than = no less than

Sometimes It appears to me nothing more than and nothing less than can be interchangeable. Examples:
You are nothing more than a criminal.
You are nothing less than a criminal.

What's the difference between 2?


Peter ended up paying a fortune for that coat. Unfortunately, he couldn't find anything less expensive. (He could find nothing less expensive.)


In the example, does it mean he couldn't find anything which was less expensive than the coat?


"more often than not" can be taken literally.

But how frequent this word imples? Does it generally refer to:
- always
- very usually (between always and usually)
- usually
- rather usually (between usually and often)
- often

Thanks.

After all, I would like to thank you once more for your earnest help.
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Her plans for spending her lottery winnings are nothing more than fantasies.

Is it possible for me to use no more than instead? Yes. ... no more than fantasies.

Marie is very fussy. She accepts nothing less than the best carrots, beans, and corn she can find.

Can I use no less than instead? Yes. ...no less than the best ...

Is it true that:
(For the sense of just) anything more than = nothing more than = no more than
(For the sense of completely) anything less than = nothing less than = no less than

Yes, provided the ones with "anything" are preceded by a negation.
Sometimes it appears to me nothing more than and nothing less than can be interchangeable. Examples:
You are nothing more than a criminal.
You are nothing less than a criminal.

What's the difference between the two?
_____
There is very little difference in this case. The difference is only in the (implied) scale used to measure the criminality.

The first sentence measures criminality as the "low value" and "virtuous behavior" as the "high value". It is a scale of "virtue", let's say. So the first sentence says "You are at the low 'criminal' value on this scale of virtue and not at all higher (toward "virtuous behavior")."

The second sentence measures criminality as the "high value" and other misbehavior like, say, telling lies, being unkind, and so on, as the "lower values". It is a scale of "bad behavior", let's say. Less bad behavior is lower on this scale and outright criminality is at the high end of this scale. So the second sentence says "You are at the high 'criminal' value on this scale of bad behavior, and not at all lower (toward less serious bad behaviors).

As a result of this slight difference, the first sentence shows a sense of disparagement at the person's low level on the scale of virtue, and the second shows an emphasis on the seriousness of the criminality, saying that whatever was done cannot be excused as a less serious offense.

In very, very loose paraphrases we have: "You are a disgusting low-life criminal who will never amount to anything better" vs. "What you did is very seriously criminal, not something trivial and easily excused."
Peter ended up paying a fortune for that coat. Unfortunately, he couldn't find anything less expensive. (He could find nothing less expensive.)

In the example, does it mean he couldn't find anything which was less expensive than the coat?
______

Actually, it's ambiguous. It could mean that he could not find a less expensive coat or that he could not find any article of any kind which was less expensive. In the context I think most people would take the first interpretation. The second interpretation, taken literally, would be a bit silly. Surely he could have found something less expensive than a coat - a paper clip or a thumbtack, for example. "anything" must be taken to mean "anything of the same kind", in this case "any other coat".
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
"more often than not" can be taken literally.
But what frequency does this expression imply? Does it generally refer to:
- always
- very usually (between always and usually)
- usually
- rather usually (between usually and often)
- often
_________

There is no use in trying to fix an exact measure on words which are intended to be inexact. Language doesn't work like mathematics! Everyone will have a slightly different ranking on some of these. Here's mine:

- always
- almost always; practically always
- very often; very frequently
- often; frequently

------ usually, normally, more often than not ---- no ranking

- about half the time
----- half the time -----
- about half the time

------ once in a while, from time to time, at times ---- no ranking

- seldom
- rarely, once in a blue moon
- almost never; hardly ever
- never

"sometimes" is any frequency except "never".
"not always" is any frequency except "always".

(There is no "rather usually" or "very usually". Emotion: smile But there is "rather often" and "very often".)
Thanks so much for your posts.
I understood thoroughly.

Also you pinpointed my problems relating to "rather usually" / "very usually". I supposed it is ok since, unlike always, different "usually" may have different minor frequency difference. So I supposed we can further define them with other adverbs.

Thanks ^-^

"sometimes" is any frequency except "never".


I beg to differ.
It needs minor modifications.
At least it will not be down to the frequency level like "rarely"/hardly/seldom".

"usually" --- no ranking


In my opinion, it means highly frequent, very often.
It should be just below always.
It should be between always and often

Basic frequency table (authoritative!):
- always (100% frequency)
- usually
- often
- sometimes
- seldom
- never (0% frequency)

My own additional frequency table:
- always
- usually
- more often than not
- often, frequently, generally, normally
-about 50% or lower frequency-
- sometimes, "once in a while"/ "at times" / "from time to time" / "(every) now and then" / occasionally
- seldom (or maybe within the range of "rarely/hardly")
- "rarely"/hardly"
- "never"

If one wishes to further define its frequency range, use some adverbs like "very", "rather", "considerably" etc.
(NB: can't use them to define "usually" [thanks to CalifJim])
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