No buts

But: such a little word, such a lot of confusion.
You can go mad looking at grammar rules to find out when the use of But is appropriate – although it seems that a lot of people are not aware they need to think about it at all. To keep it simple (if a little subtle) look at this example:
“Record numbers of couples file for divorce in January after the strains of Christmas.
“But the survey found that the most common cause of rows is more mundane.”
 
What’s wrong with it?
It’s not starting a sentence with But… rather, why is there a But at all?
 
But generally signals an exception, a thing in opposition to another. So
He went to town to buy shoes, but there weren’t any in his size.
She wanted steak, but the shop had none.
I made a cake for tea, but it flopped.
 
In our example, what is the “but” objecting to?
 
It’s not clear as we don’t know what particular strains Christmas may impose and whether they are mundane or not, so the opposition implied by the “But” jars on the eye and ear. Woolly thinking usually lies at the base of problems like this and generally the answer is to simplify, like this: 
 
Record numbers of couples file for divorce in January after the strains of Christmas.
The survey found that the most common cause of rows is money, with housework a close second (which is what the story goes on to say).
First published on my sister’s blog Grubstreet.

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