In a faraway land, there once lived three sisters, each quite lovely and quite contrary. They were always arguing—with passersby and with each other.
The youngest sister was called But. Her name was a sore spot; it often made her the rump of jokes. She always crafted quick, clear arguments, but she interjected a lot.
The middle sister was named Although. She loved poetry, the way the words washed into each other. She liked the sound of flowery arguments, although their logic was sometimes harder to follow.
However was the eldest. She was pensive in her arguments and preferred to think through her words before speaking. Her younger sisters tended to bubble over; she, however, loved the power of a good dramatic pause.
One warm spring afternoon, the sisters sat in the shade of a yew tree outside their home, weaving blankets and words.
Although eyed But’s blanket. “Although your pattern is pretty, I think my style of weaving is faster.”
But shook her head. “I’ve nothing against yours, but mine is definitely the fastest.”
However smiled while she listened to her sisters’ squabbling. Her fingers wove quickest of all; she wouldn’t bother jumping into the argument just to say so, however.
At that moment three travelers rode past. So taken were they with the lovely sisters that they dismounted their horses and bowed deeply. The sisters were pleased, and they invited the travelers to tea.
In the sisters’ parlor, conversations wove around the room. The youngest of the travelers, a charming man with ink on his cuffs, gazed into But’s eyes. “Milady, has anyone asked permission for your hand in marriage?”
But stared back. “No one has, but whom would they ask? My hands are my own.”
“Of course,” the young man stammered. “Well… Would your hands have any interest in becoming a lawyer’s wife?”
But eyed his ink-stained sleeves and his kind face. “They would not,” she said, “but they would have great interest in becoming a lawyer… and perhaps, one day, a wife.”
The first traveler’s face lit up. “I can help you learn if you like,” he offered. The other sisters were so happy for But that they invited the travelers to stay for dinner.
Inside the dining room, laughter rippled through the air. The second traveler, a stormy-eyed lady with a fine ruffled collar and swords at her waist, knelt at the table beside Although. “Milady, your poetic words and ways fill my heart like the sea fills my soul. Would you consent to travel the world with me?”
Although smiled. “Although I have never desired to sail the wild ocean, I feel I would always find safe harbor with you. I shall.”
The second traveler’s face brimmed with delight. The other sisters were so glad for Although that they invited the travelers to stay for stargazing.
Outside in the mild evening, a comfortable quiet settled over everyone. The oldest of the travelers, a man with gentle eyes, leaned closer to However. “I have loved and lost before,” he began. “I am older and sadder than I used to be, yet my heart still yearns to love. If I gave it to you… would you give me yours in return?”
A shooting star whistled across the sky above them. However cast her eyes down. “I cannot make such a weighty decision so quickly.”
The third traveler’s face fell. The others looked soberly at each other.
“However,” she added, “you may ask me again at another time.”
He looked up hopefully. Another shooting star whisked past overhead.
The fragrant days of spring passed around the sisters’ home. But left for the city with her suitor to earn her letters as a lawyer, but she returned home every so often, always with ink smudges, heavy books, and a content smile.
However’s suitor visited frequently, bringing her gifts of lilacs and daisies and lilies and roses to set upon her table. However was always happy to see him. When he asked for her heart, however, she always deferred. “Another time,” said she.
The days warmed into the gleam of summer. Although sailed out of the harbor with her love to travel the world and fill it with poetry. Although the seafaring life pleased her greatly, she returned home every so often with sea glass and shanties and stories.
However’s patient suitor still visited often, bearing baskets of berries and sweet summer fruits to share on stargazing picnics. However was always elated to see him. When he asked for her heart, however, she continued to put him off.
Finally, the air began to blow cool, and the leaves turned to fiery shades. The summer was surrendering to the dreariness of autumn. However’s suitor knocked once more on her door, this time empty-handed.
“I have nothing left to offer you,” he said sadly. “I have brought you the most beautiful offerings that spring and summer can tender, and now cold autumn comes. If you have no further interest in my heart, I would ask that you return it.”
However stepped out. “I could never give my heart to someone so fast and all at once,” she said.
Her suitor turned away.
She laid a hand on his shoulder. “However… I have given you a piece of my heart with every kind word and every thoughtful act. My patient, gentle love, you now possess it all.”
His eyes lit up like stars at her words. The brightness of autumn bloomed around them, no longer dreary in the slightest with their hearts to kindle and warm each other. They were married as soon as But and Although could be summoned home.
However, who loved the power of a good dramatic pause, had found something she loved much more.
And they all lived happily, merrily, and still a bit contrarily, ever after.
I hope you liked this little tale of three sisters! The word nerd and folktale fan in me really enjoyed writing it. I wanted to start this blog series with a commonly confused topic; I always review the but/although/however conundrum when I’m tutoring. In conversation, we tend to use them interchangeably, but they each have a distinct grammatical job to do.
So… (rubs hands together—here we go!)
How are “but,” “although,” and “however” actually different?
But is a coordinating conjunction. Some English teachers call these “FANBOYS” conjunctions (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So) to help students remember them.
Coordinating conjunctions are used to join two independent clauses (complete thoughts) when the thoughts have equal weight in the sentence. Examples:
- She always crafted clear arguments, but she interjected a lot.
- The sisters were pleased, and they invited the travelers to tea.
- “I’m older and sadder than I used to be, yet my heart still yearns to love.”
Although is a subordinating conjunction. There are many, many subordinating conjunctions! Common ones include although, because, since, if, when, while, and so on.
Subordinating conjunctions are also used to join independent clauses, but they do so by making one clause subordinate (dependent)—meaning it’s no longer a complete thought on its own. Commas are placed after subordinate clauses but typically not before them.* Examples:
- I can help you learn if you like.
- She smiled while she listened to her sisters’ squabbling.
- “Although your pattern is pretty, I think my style of weaving is faster.”
*There are, of course, exceptions! An exception even appears in the story: “She liked the sound of flowery arguments, although their logic was sometimes harder to follow.”
This is an example of an adverb of concession. When an independent clause is followed by a contrasting clause, it does receive a comma to support the logical turn in the sentence. English, amirite?
However is a conjunctive adverb. What does that mean? Well, adverbs are modifiers: they change how another word (usually a verb) is used in a sentence. A conjunctive adverb modifies the meaning of a whole sentence. They are standalone words and phrases like however, on the other hand, as a matter of fact, thus, therefore, first of all, and so on.
Conjunctive adverbs are used to fill in the logic between two complete thoughts. They can be placed anywhere in a sentence. Since they stand alone, conjunctive adverbs are set apart from the rest of the sentence with commas. Examples:
- She, however, loved the power of a good dramatic pause.
- She wouldn’t bother jumping into the argument just to say so, however.
- Finally, the air began to blow cool.
I hope that the characterizations I’ve given to these words throughout the three sisters’ story—But as a quick-minded interrupter, Although as a poet, and However as a lover of dramatic pauses—will make it easier to remember their various purposes.
Thanks for reading! Check back on February 19 for the next Grammar Adventure.
In the meantime, happy reading and happy writing!