What does the idiom "all but" mean?

all but is an idiom used by many writers. When idioms are used in the right place, they open the doors of effective communication and increase your descriptive power. In this way, you will be better understood. The meaning of the expression all but is also remarkable in this respect.

Meaning of "all but"


The idiom “all but” generally means “almost,” “close to,” or “simply lacking.” It is often used to emphasize how close something is to completion, or how nearly something was achieved, yet it was not fully realized. Therefore, something can be “all but done” or “all but certain.” It is also used to describe something that is almost complete, almost one hundred percent certain, or something that is almost, but not quite, happening.


The origin of “all but” is not precisely known. It has been used in English since the 10th century and is probably derived from Old English, where “but” meant “outside.” By the 12th century, “all but” had come to mean “close to” or “almost,” and is still used in this way today.


The idiom “all but” is used in both written and spoken English. It is used in informal contexts and is typically found in everyday conversations. It is, however, considered to be more formal than any of its synonyms such as “almost,” “nearly,” or “close to.” As such, it is often used in more formal contexts such as business meetings, professional emails, and reports.

Example Sentences

  • The project is all but finished.
  • I'm all but certain that it will rain tomorrow.
  • The shipment is all but ready to go.
  • We've all but given up on finding a solution.

The meanings of the words in the "all but" idiom

Idioms with similar meanings in different languages

"Barking up the wrong tree" is an English idiom that means to pursue a mistaken or misguided course of action. In German, the similar idiom is "Auf dem Holzweg sein," which translates to "To be on the wrong track." This idiom emphasizes the idea that when you are pursuing the wrong course of action, you are not going to achieve your desired outcome.


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