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.

  • 1
    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, 2014 at 8:32

2 Answers 2


Who told you there is an intensity difference there?


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, 2014 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. Nov 28, 2014 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, 2014 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. Nov 28, 2014 at 6:33
  • Oh I see! Haha nice use of 不过 :P
    – Ming
    Nov 28, 2014 at 7:12

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? Nov 29, 2014 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? :) Nov 29, 2014 at 11:28
  • Well,there is a novel named 你却爱着一个傻逼 which confirmed my point.
    – Shirlltic
    Nov 29, 2014 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... Nov 29, 2014 at 13:44

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