Not only… but also

The phrase “but also” refers back to an earlier part of the sentence (usually flagged with “not only”) to add extra or even contrasting information. It can’t start a sentence or stand alone.

Dutch quite likes throwing in maar or maar ook without it being clear what’s being referred to for comparison. When that gets literally translated, the “but also” comes straight out of left field for the English reader. Remember:

  • if you’re going to use but also, set it up politely with not only earlier in the sentence
  • a sentence beginning with “But also” is going to be confusing

In fact, “but” on its own to start a sentence (as opposed to e.g. “but for”, which means “except”) isn’t good writing anyway.

Prevalence: high. The word maar (but) and the phrase maar ook (but also) are of course very common. Literal translation isn’t always the answer.
Frequency: high. Scientific writing and contracts are particularly prone to it, because Dutch can break up long sentences that way (whereas English can’t).
Native: no. We end up doing a double-take to work out what the comparison is.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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