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Disagreements in Everyday Conversation

2017-2-16

For VOA Learning English, this is Everyday Grammar.

Imagine that you are walking down the street in an American city.

You might hear short conversations as you pass people. One such short conversation might sound like this:

A: Should we try that restaurant? I hear the food is cheap!

B: Their food is supposed to be bad, though.* There's a reason the food is cheap!

A: Yeah but I need to save money for my Mom's Christmas gift!

The point of this conversation is not to teach you that America has a lot of bad restaurants. In fact, America does have some very good restaurants!

The point of this conversation is to show you how some Americans disagree with each other in everyday conversation. These friendly disagreements, for example, might be between friends who are trying to decide what they want to do.

everyday grammar
everyday grammar

Americans often use the words, though and but, to show contrast or disagreement. They may use these words in specific ways to be more or less forceful.

In today's report, we will explore how the words though and but are used in everyday conversation.

Though

In many grammar books, you will see that though introduces a clause that shows an unexpected result.

For example, you might read a sentence such as this: "Though it was raining, we went for a walk."

Though is not commonly used this way in everyday conversation.

Susan Conrad and Douglas Biber are English grammar experts. They say that in conversation, though is commonly used as an adverb. The adverb can show a transition between sentences. In other words, it links ideas between sentences. When though is used as a transition, it shows disagreement or contrast.

It often appears at the end of a sentence.

3 Common Uses of Though in Conversation

Though has three common uses in conversation, say Conrad and Biber.

#1 Showing contrast with a previous statement

First, a speaker can use though to express contrast with their own statement.

So, for example, a speaker talking about a new pair of jeans might say the following:

"These jeans are a little loose. I like the color, though."

#2 Showing contrast with another speaker's statement

The second common use of though is to show a contrast with another speaker's point. It does not necessarily mean that one speaker disagrees with the other, it just means that one speaker is adding a contrasting point to the statement of the other speaker.

Here is an example:

"A: These jeans are really nice."

B: Yeah, they're expensive, though."

#3 Showing disagreement with another speaker

The third common use of though is to show disagreement with another speaker's previous statement.

Consider this example:

"A: These jeans are really nice!"

"B: They're poorly made, though."

Despite their disagreement, these two speakers are showing a polite way to disagree.

Why? Because it is a less direct way of disagreeing. Often, Americans prefer less direct ways of speaking – particularly when disagreeing.

A more direct and forceful way of disagreeing would be in the following example:

"A: These jeans are really nice!

B: No, they are not."

Some Americans would consider this to be an impolite way to disagree – especially if the other person was not well known to them!

This is because the language is much more direct and negative.

What about but in conversation?

The word but also shows contrast or disagreement. In everyday conversation, but is a conjunction that often appears at the beginning of a sentence.

Although though and but might seem alike, you will learn that there are important differences between how they are used in conversation.

Consider this example:

"A: I really like those jeans!

B: But you told me last week that you don't like jeans!"

The second speaker is directly disagreeing with the first person's statement.

Why did the speaker choose to start the sentence with but?

The second speaker also could have said, "You told me last week that you don't like jeans, though!"

The speaker, who disagrees by using the word but, probably has strong feelings about the jeans.

Starting the sentence with a word – such as but ­- that shows disagreement is a stronger and more forceful way to speak.

Other ways to use ‘but’

One way that Americans reduce the force of the word but is to put words in front of it. The most common way to do this is to use the word yeah.

Here is an example of what this sounds like:

A: I really like those jeans!

B: Yeah but you told me last week that you don't like jeans!

This way of disagreeing, even though it is informal, sounds softer and less forceful. Americans may choose to say yeah first because it sets a pleasant tone to the sentence. By beginning the sentence with the agreeable word, yeah, speakers can show that the strength of their disagreement is not very strong.

Using yeah but is less polite than using though, say Conrad and Biber. In addition, it is less forceful than using but alone.

What can you do?

Think back to the conversation at the beginning of this story:

A: Should we try that restaurant? I hear the food is cheap!

B: Their food is supposed to be bad, though. There's a reason the food is cheap!

A: Yeah but I need to save money for my Mom's Christmas gift!

You will notice that the two speakers show contrast or disagreement with the word though. One speaker uses yeah but when disagreeing with the other.

Learning these ways to disagree is not easy. It can take a long time to learn how grammar, word choice, and culture work together.

However, the next time you are watching an American film or TV show, try to focus on how speakers disagree with each other. You might notice that they disagree, or show contrast, in different ways.

Think about the situation to understand how and why the speakers might be disagreeing with each other.

In future Everyday Grammar stories, we will explore these issues in more detail.

I’m Anne Ball. And I’m John Russell.

John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

*There is a debate about comma placement and the word "though." We chose to use the comma for the sake of consistency. A discussion about comma placement is beyond the scope of this story.

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Words in This Story

conversation – n. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people

contrast – n. something that is different from another thing

clause – n. grammar : a part of a sentence that has its own subject and verb

adverb – n. a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence and that is often used to show time, manner, place, or degree

transition – n. grammar a word or phrase that connects ideas

tone – n. a quality, feeling, or attitude expressed by the words that someone uses in speaking or writing