DANSHI vs KESHI vs BUGUO: 3 ‘BUT’ in Chinese Compared Head to Head

danshi keshi buguo difference compare

但是 (dànshì), 可是 (kěshì), 不过 (búguò). Are you confused about the three different words for saying “but” in Chinese? It can be tricky as all of them have the same translation in English. Then what’s the difference between 但是 (dànshì), 可是 (kěshì) and 不过 (búguò)?

Well, at the end of the article you definitely won’t be confused. We will guide you through the subtle difference between the three “but” in Chinese so that you can say it right in every situation.

3 ways of saying but in Chinese danshi keshi buguo

Make no “buts” about it! let’s jump right in!

但是 (dànshì): the Standard BUT

但是 (dànshì) is the standard, neutral “but” in Chinese. It sounds more serious than 可是 (kěshì) and 不过 (búguò), therefore it appears more often in writing and formal speech situations (e.g. TV news, lectures). If you are writing an essay, that’s the word you should choose.

但是 (dànshì) can be used in conversational Chinese as well. In that case, the “but” is very strong as it indicates the two statements are totally incompatible. Typically, you would use 但是 (dànshì) to emphasize the contrary, or present your argument or refusal.

Let’s see some examples!

  • 中文很有意思,但是太难了。
    Zhōngwén hěn yǒuyìsi, dànshì tài nán le.
    Chinese is quite interesting, but really hard.
  • 这个包很好看,但是不实用。
    Zhège bāo hěn hǎokàn, dànshì bù shíyòng.
    This bag looks good, but impractical.
  • 她出生在中国,但是不会说中文。
    Tā chūshēng zài zhōngguó, dànshì bú huì shuō zhōngwén.
    She was born in China, but can’t speak Chinese.
  • 我想去酒吧,但是现在有点早。
    Wǒ xiǎng qù jiǔbā, dànshì xiànzài yǒudiǎn zǎo.
    I want to go to the pub, but it’s a bit early now.
  • 他需要钱,但是不愿意工作。
    Tā xūyào qián, dànshì bú yuànyì gōngzuò.
    He needs money, but is not willing to work.
Danshi in Chinese is used to emphasize contrary, present argument or refusal.

In spoken Chinese, 但是 (dànshì) is often shortened to 但 (dàn) to sound more concise.

  • 中文很有意思,太难了。Zhōngwén hěn yǒuyìsi, dànshì tài nán le.
    → 中文很有意思,太难了。Zhōngwén hěn yǒuyìsi, dàn tài nán le.
    Chinese is quite interesting, but really hard.

You can also pair 但是 (dànshì)/但 (dàn) with 虽然 (suīrán) or 尽管 (jǐnguǎn) to form the fixed grammar pattern “although…, (but)…”.

  • 中文虽然很有意思,但(是)太难了。
    Zhōngwén suīrán hěn yǒuyìsi, dàn(shì) tài nán le.
    Although Chinese is quite interesting, (but) it’s really hard.
  • 尽管她出生在中国,但(是)她不会说中文。
    Jǐnguǎn tā chūshēng zài Zhōngguó, dàn(shì) tā bú huì shuō zhōngwén.
    Even though she was born in China, (but) she can’t speak Chinese.

可是 (kěshì): the Informal BUT

可是 (kěshì) can be considered the weaker version of 但是 (dànshì). It works pretty much the same, it just sounds more casual. Therefore, 可是 (kěshì) is primarily used in spoken Chinese, rather than in writing.

Most of the time, you can use 可是 (kěshì) interchangeably with 但是 (dànshì).

  • 中文很有意思,可是太难了。
    Zhōngwén hěn yǒuyìsi, kěshì tài nán le.
    Chinese is quite interesting, but really hard.
  • 我想学英文,可是现在太晚了。
    Wǒ xiǎng xué yīngwén, kěshì xiànzài tài wǎn le.
    I want to learn English, but it’s too late now.
  • 我想养只猫,可是爸爸不同意。
    Wǒ xiǎng yǎng zhī māo, kěshì bàba bù tóngyì.
    I want to raise a cat, but dad doesn’t agree.

Just as 但 (dàn), 可是 (kěshì) is often shortened to a simple 可 (kě) in spoken conversation, which sounds even more casual.

  • 我想养只猫,爸爸不同意。Wǒ xiǎng yǎng zhī māo, shì bàba bù tóngyì.
    → 我想养只猫,爸爸不同意。Wǒ xiǎng yǎng zhī māo,  bàba bù tóngyì.
    I want to raise a cat, but dad doesn’t agree.

Take note that the word 可是 (kěshì)/可 (kě) is usually associated with negative sentiments (e.g. disappointment, frustration, regret, pity, etc). In English, this might be expressed with “but unfortunately”, or “but regretfully”.

  • 我很想买新手机,可是钱不够。
    Wǒ hěn xiǎng mǎi xīn shǒujī, kěshì qián bú gòu.
    I would very much like to buy a new cell phone, but (unfortunately) money is not enough.
  • 我喜欢她,她不喜欢我。
    Wǒ xǐhuan tā,  tā bù xǐhuan wǒ.
    I like her, but (unfortunately) she doesn’t like me.
  • 这场比赛我们很努力,最后还是输了。
    Zhè chǎng bǐsài wǒmen hěn nǔlì,  zuìhòu háishì shū le.
    We fought very hard in the game, but (unfortunately) in the end, we still lost.
Keshi in Chinese is usually associated with sentimental feelings

On the other end of the spectrum, combinations of 可是 (kěshì) and fortunate things won’t sound as natural to native speakers.

  • 这次考试很难,可是我过了。
    Zhè cì kǎoshì hěn nán, kěshì wǒ guò le.
    This exam was quite hard, but I passed.
    (The sentence is grammatically correct, but sounds a bit off.)

It’s better to rephrase it to

  • 这次考试很难,但是我过了。
    Zhè cì kǎoshì hěn nán, dànshì wǒ guò le.

可是 (kěshì)/可 (kě) can also be paired with 虽然 (suīrán) or 尽管 (jǐnguǎn) to express “although…, (but)…”, however, these combinations are less common since 虽然 (suīrán) or 尽管 (jǐnguǎn) are mainly used in formal settings.

Special Use of 可是 (kěshì): Emphasis

可是 (kěshì) has a particular usage 但是 (dànshì) cannot replace: emphasize the speaker’s opinion on something. It’s like saying “Tell you what” at the beginning of the sentence.

  • 可是上海最高的楼。
    Zhè kěshì shànghǎi zuì gāo de lóu.
    Tell you what, this is the tallest building in Shanghai.
  • 梅西可是世界上最好的足球运动员。
    Méixī kěshì shìjiè shàng zuì hǎo de zúqiú yùndòngyuán.
    Tell you what, Messi is the best football player in the world.

You cannot swap out the 可是 (kěshì) in these sentences with 但是 (dànshì). That won’t make any sense.

不过 (búguò): the Softer BUT

不过 (búguò) is the softest, most informal “but” in Chinese. Basically you want to use this when you aren’t sure or it’s not that strong of a conflict.

The use of 不过 (búguò) is somehow different from 但是 (dànshì) and 可是 (kěshì). Unlike the latter two, it’s not about emphasizing contrary, but rather adding extra remarks to the statement (e.g. a condition, correction, comment, etc)

For example,

  • 我可以帮你,不过不要告诉他。
    Wǒ kěyǐ bāng nǐ,  búguò búyào gàosù tā.
    I can help you, but don’t him.
    不过 (búguò) is used in the sense of “on condition that” here.
  • 我可以跟你走,不过我要先打电话给我妈妈。
    Wǒ kěyǐ gēn nǐ zǒu, búguò wǒ yào xiān dǎ diànhuà gěi wǒ māma.
    I can go with you, but I need to call my mom first.
  • 你可以过来,不过你要先答应我一件事。
    Nǐ kěyǐ guòlái, búguò nǐ yào xiān dāyìng wǒ yí jiàn shì.
    You can come over, but you need to promise me something first.
  • 这家酒店不是太豪华,不过还行。
    Zhè jiā jiǔdiàn bú shì tài háohuá, búguò hái xíng.
    This hotel is not that luxurious, but it’s all right.
  • 他是美国人,不过会说中文。
    Tā shì Měiguó rén, búguò huì shuō zhōngwén.
    He’s American, but he can speak Chinese.
  • 你的普通话发音不错,不过一个小问题。
    Nǐ de pǔtōnghuà fāyīn búcuò, búguò yǒu yí gè xiǎo wèntí.
    Your Mandarin pronunciation is not bad, but there is a little problem.
  • 这双鞋挺好看的,不过有点贵。
    Zhè shuāng xié tǐng hǎokàn de, búguò yǒudiǎn guì.
    This pair of shoes look good, but a bit expensive.
  • 那个地方我没去过,不过听说很好玩。
    Nàge dìfang wǒ méi qù guò, búguò tīngshuō hěn hǎowán.
    I haven’t been to that place, but I heard it’s a lot of fun.
  • 这份工作很轻松,不过工资不高。
    Zhè fèn gōngzuò hěn qīngsōng, búguò gōngzī bù gāo.
    This job is easy, but the salary is not high.
  • 我很想辞职,不过没有胆子。
    Wǒ hěn xiǎng cízhí, búguò méiyǒu dǎnzi.
    I really want to quit the job, but don’t have the guts.
Buguo in Chinese is used to add extra remarks to the statement

Special Meaning of 不过 (búguò): merely/just

Besides the soft “but”, 不过 (búguò) can also mean merely or just in other contexts. (The literal translation of 不过 búguò is “not-surpassing”)

  • 不过是个玩笑。
    Zhè búguò shìgè wánxiào.
    It’s just a joke.
  • 不过比你大两岁。
    Tā búguò bǐ nǐ dà liǎng suì.
    He is merely two years older than you.
  • 没关系!不过是个小问题!
    Méi guānxi! Búguò shì gè xiǎo wèntí!
    Take it easy! (It’s) just a little problem!

Quick Recap: danshi vs keshi vs buguo

There are three words that correspond to the English “but” in Chinese: 但是 (dànshì), 可是 (kěshì) and 不过 (búguò). 但是 (dànshì) sounds most formal and is typically used to emphasize contrary, present argument or refusal. 可是 (kěshì), the informal “but”, is usually associated with negative sentiments and is interchangeable with 但是 (dànshì) most of the time. 不过 (búguò), the softest, most informal “but” is mainly used to add extra remarks to the statement. In spoken Chinese, 但是 (dànshì) and 可是 (kěshì) can be shortened to 但 (dàn) and 可 (kě).

Remember, grammar is the glue that holds the pieces of language together, so don’t forget to check other grammar articles on ImproveMandarin.Com’s Grammar Channel! 谢谢 (xièxie) for reading this post!