The following sentence is from the news contributed by The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Wesley Clark and John Edwards exchanged charges as they focused their attention on Tuesday's contests in Tennessee and Virginia. They all but ignored this weekend's contests.

I found the use of but in this sentence quite interesting. It seems like it functions as an emphatic element in the sentence because if it is omitted the sentence still reads just fine. According to American Heritage Dictionary. But can function as an adverb with two meanings:

1. Merely; just; only: hopes that lasted but a moment.
2. Used as an intensive: Get out of here but fast!

In sense#1: They all just ignored this weekend's contests.

It seems like sense#1 also makes sense here. How can we distinguish the use of but between these two senses?
Original Post
The idiomatic expression "all but" is different from the single word "but." "All but" is an adverbial that means "almost" or "very nearly." It says that the action didn't happen but that it almost, or very nearly, happened. In the news story, the two candidates didn't totally ignore the weekend's contests, but they gave them almost no attention.

Here are some examples from Google:

While she pops up in regional theatre and off-Broadway now and then, she's all but vanished from the New York scene. (She hasn't completely vanished, but almost)

Well, to say they all but threw themselves onto the road in front of the approaching vehicle to force it to a stop, would be putting it mildly!

Since I rented a car, I was told to use the VIP check in by the gaming host. Upon arrival, they all but threw me out of the VIP check in.

Another idiom that is close in meaning to "all but" is "as good as," as in

He as good as proposed to her after eating her double-chocolate brownies

Both expressions are used in informal, not formal, English.

Marilyn Martin

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