I think that I asked something very similar to this before, but consider this sentence:

https://join.substack.com/p/ar...y-theories-dangerous

I do this all the time on Facebook, and I’ll never convert hardcore conspiracy theorists, but I can actually reach a large number of people who are in the middle and who are just curious about what people are talking about.

So it has the following structure:

X, and Y, but Z.

Does the "but" attach only to Y? Or to X? Or to X and Y?

Not sure if this is the ONLY ambiguity...there may be more ambiguities in that structure too; is this the ONLY ambiguity in that structure?

Original Post

X, and Y, but Z.

Does the "but" attach only to Y? Or to X? Or to X and Y?

Hi, Andrew—Syntactically, "but" can attach either just to Y or to the conjunction of X and Y, as illustrated below, where "IC" stands for "independent clause." I naturally interpret "but" as attaching to the conjunction of X and Y:

However, it is possible to parse the sentence so that "but" attaches only to Y:

The context makes it clear that "do this" means "debunk things online." The reader therefore naturally understands "I'll never convert hardcore conspiracy theorists" to mean "I'll never convert hardcore conspiracy theorists by dubunking things online." One understands the second independent clause as if you'd meant to write a "though"-clause, an option you might consider:

• I do this all the time on Facebook, and, though I'll never convert hardcore conspiracy theorists, I can actually reach a large number of peopl who are in the middle and who are just curious about what people are talking about.

A second option is to use a semicolon before the "but"-clause:

• I do this all the time on Facebook, and I'll never convert hardcore conspiracy theorists; but I can actually reach a large number of people who are in the middle and who are just curious about what people are talking about.

A third option is to delete the unnecessarily repeated subject in the second independent clause. This makes what was two independent clauses (X and Y) one independent clause (X) with conjoined predicates. We also lose a comma:

• I do this all the time on Facebook and will never convert hardcore conspiracy theorists, but I can actually reach a large number of people who are in the middle and who are just curious about what people are talking about.

Each of those three options eliminates the ambiguity diagrammed.

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Last edited by David, Moderator

Thanks so much for this incredible help! I really appreciate it!

I'll go with the third option that you mentioned!