Statistics & Grammar: I Don’t Use the Word “But”

I don’t use the word ‘but’ because it negates everything that was said before it. 

For example, 

I’m sorry you feel that way, but I didn’t mean to hurt you.

First of all, that is so petty. Sincere apologies don’t sound like that and do not need caveats. Secondly, both parts of the sentence could be true, I am sorry you feel that way and I didn’t mean to hurt you. 

Thirdly, saying you and I can be quite accusatory. You feel that way. I didn’t mean to hurt you. That comes off with a lot of unnecessary attitude. A better way of truly apologizing in this example would sound like:

I’m sorry I hurt you; that wasn’t my intention. 

Or just keep it at:

I’m sorry I hurt you. 

The word ‘but’ is a conjunction that is meant to join two contrasting ideas or phrases. In general conversation, and especially in professional conversations, two distinct ideas are not mutually exclusive. I prefer to use the word ‘and’ to ensure clear communication. If it may come off as rude or sound a little odd, I pause and basically start a new sentence in conversation. 

I can’t help but think from a statistical point of view. In statistics, the value changes when you use conjunctions like ‘but.’ For example, 

77% of students passed their statistics class this semester

41% of students that took a statistics class this semester got an A as their final grade (notice I didn’t say of the students who passed, 41% did so with an A.)

With this information, we can conclude that…

45% of students passed their statistics class this semester, but did not get an A as their final grade

59% did not pass their statistics class this semester with an A as their final grade

As you can see, certain events are not mutually exclusive and the more you add on to it, the more complicated it becomes when using conjunctions like ‘and’ and ‘but.’ In this example, there is more than one way to be included in the statistic of students who did not pass their statistic class this semester with an A as their final grade: those students who failed their stats class and those students who received a final grade of B or C. If anything, this example would have laid out what denotes a passing grade on whatever grading scale used. But I’ll let it slide because it is my example.

Thanks for sitting in for a quick stats problem. As you can see, multiple conditions or factors can be present at one time, just like multiple things can be true at the same time.

Back to the use of the word but in writing or conversation. 

I like him, but I have to fire him. 

You can still like him even if you have to fire him; the most important part came after ‘but.’ This is a fine way to communicate your conflicting feelings and events.

I know he is super busy, but this is really important.

It’s fine. I would probably pause in between the two phrases because they can both be true. I would do it this way to avoid lessening the extent to which I understand that he is super busy. 

If you choose to use the word in a conversation or a presentation, people will generally understand that the most important part of your sentence is coming up after the use of the word. In critique and in professional conversations, the use of the word ‘but’ may result in friction and unclear communication.

I hope this two-in-one class of statistics and grammar was of benefit to you. The wording you choose is immensely important because it may change the end result, your true message, in drastic ways. In marketing, having a solid grasp of grammar, but not thinking ahead of how it will be interpreted by the audience will negatively affect social media engagement. (See what I did there.) 

This is especially important if you are marketing your successes and impact with numerical figures; you wouldn’t want to unknowingly misconstrue the numbers you present to sponsors and partners. In statistics and in marketing, two distinct ideas or facts are not always mutually exclusive. The words used can have a negative effect on how your followers perceive your company and the information you put out there. 

Contact Heritage Writing Co. for copywriting that reflects a solid grasp of the English and Spanish languages and copywriting that reflects a deep understanding of statistics. Given that your audience is complex and diverse, you shouldn’t leave anything up to chance. The likelihood of an unfavorable outcome is quite high with poorly written copy. Okay, okay, I’m done with the statistical talk. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s