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I know that the intensity for the Chinese "but" is 不过》可是》但是》却 and I know that there are other words like this, but I wonder if there is a way to recognise which one has the stronger meaning, without having to memorise it.

Just to clarify, I already know about the "but" words in Chinese. I'm looking for a general rule that applies to words that have the same meaning, but a different intensity/strength.

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    It doesn't look like your question's being answered thus far, so I thought I'd just mention something ... I don't think there's a trick to find this out. I'm not sure, I just don't think there is :) I'm interested to know if there is a trick though! – Ming Nov 28 '14 at 8:32
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Who told you there is an intensity difference there?

你觉得它们不一样,不过我不这么认为。
你觉得它们不一样,可是我不这么认为。
你觉得它们不一样,但是我不这么认为。
你觉得它们不一样,然而我不这么认为。
你觉得它们不一样,而我却不这么认为。

They sound absolutely the same to my ears. You use different words only because you want it to sound slightly more colorful.


Update: I might be wrong. See discussions in the comments.

Anyway it is easy to remember:

  • 不 in 不过: 4 strokes
  • 可 in 可是: 5 strokes
  • 但 in 但是: 7 strokes

See? The intensity goes up with the strokes.

却 is a different beast and shouldn't be compared with these three.

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    There's a previous post about intensities: chinese.stackexchange.com/a/315/3561 this is the same as how it was told to me by several Chinese teachers (with the exception of 却, I wasn't told about the existence of that one, only the first three.) – Ming Nov 28 '14 at 5:51
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    @Ming It's funny that when you search "不过 可是 但是" in google, you'll find it's mostly CSL teachers and students trying to figure out something. There might be difference in usage, for example, 不过 and 可是 is more seen in daily chatter, while 但是 and 然而 is more fitted to formal talks. As for the intensity, the context speaks for itself, a conjunction word really doesn't do much. – Wang Dingwei Nov 28 '14 at 6:08
  • Sorry, what's a CSL teacher? Hmm I can kinda feel a difference myself .. 4th tone is pretty stern, so two of them in 但是 seems the most argumentative. 不过 really does seem the softest, mildest of them. And 可是, having one 4th tone, sits in between the two. I can't tell now if I feel that way because of the way they sound, or because I learnt it that way and have attributed those feelings to them afterwards. – Ming Nov 28 '14 at 6:18
  • @Ming CSL is Chinese as Second Language. You made good points, 不过 still I don't think it's important, especially for starters. – Wang Dingwei Nov 28 '14 at 6:33
  • Oh I see! Haha nice use of 不过 :P – Ming Nov 28 '14 at 7:12
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In my opinion, the biggest difference between these words is the context. We only use 却 in writing but we will never say 却 in a conversation. Meanwhile, we use 不过 more often than not in speaking.

I suppose 不过》可是》但是》却 sorts by the context. There is no difference of intensity between them.They are unlike "although" and "but" in English.

I'm really not good at English and it is my first time to visit the website. I don't know if you get my point. You can reply me whenever you get confused.

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    Downvoters care to explain why? – Wang Dingwei Nov 29 '14 at 11:26
  • I agree with you on the intensity, but 却 can be used in conversations with no problem: 我深深地爱着你,你却爱着一个傻逼,可傻逼却不爱你,你还给傻逼织毛衣。Very conversational, isn't it? :) – Wang Dingwei Nov 29 '14 at 11:28
  • Well,there is a novel named 你却爱着一个傻逼 which confirmed my point. – Shirlltic Nov 29 '14 at 13:38
  • You said "we will never say 却 in a conversation" like you are 100% sure. And yes we don't use 却 very often, but IMO we can't be 100% sure about anything in language... – Wang Dingwei Nov 29 '14 at 13:44

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