Ma, Però, Bensì and Tuttavia

My apologies for the length of this question. All the above words are used for the English word “but”, some are interchangeable, some are specific. I appreciate this subject has been covered in separate posts, but these were 5 years ago and never in a single post (I think !) and some questions were left unanswered. I have read through the posts but some comments appear to contradict so I would like some help clearing up where each can or should be used.

Ma – seemingly the most used word for “but”, can it be used to begin sentences ? In English, it is considered poor grammar to begin a sentence with “But”, however, it is used possibly more than it should in this position(!) My understanding is that, in Italian, it is an informal word for “but” and should be used to join to statements in a sentence – “Not this, but that.”

Però – In DL, I have found this word used in an example to begin a sentence – però non lo trovo !! (It began "Però nonna ……) By typing this word into the DL words list, it gives several examples, all are used to join two statements (Ho una cucina, però non cucino) however, I don’t see why “ma” cannot be used here. One comment in a previous post states that però gives a greater emphasis to the word “but”, as in – “Not this, BUT that !!” Is it always the Italian equivalent of “however” and a more emphatic “but” ?

Bensì - This is where DL comments appear to contradict. One post states that bensì is hardly ever used and is considered very formal and proper, only encountered in the written word. Another one states that bensì can and should always be used where the latter part of the sentence doesn’t contain a verb, only a noun – “I don’t drink beer, but wine”, “Io non bevo birra, bensì vino”. However, if the sentence was “I don’t drink beer, but I do drink wine”, then bensì cannot be used “Io non bevo birra, ma (faccio?) bevo vino”. One Italian speaker stated that most Italians would invariably (always ?) use “ma” when speaking in this situation, is this true ?

Tuttavia – My understanding is this would be used for the “never the less” phrase or the word “yet”. I include it here purely for completeness, I don’t have any particular issue with tuttavia. (I hope !)

vi ringrazio in anticipo

August 22, 2019


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Duolingo teaches largely colloquial use. While, like in English, you wouldn't use "però" or "ma" to begin a sentence in, say, a formal essay or talk, you'll see them there fairly frequently in informal writing and speech. "Ma" is also used pretty often as an intensifier at the beginning of sentences, especially questions (like, "Ma che dici?"), and in these cases would not necessarily be translated. This is also informal use.

If they're used to combine two sentences (independent clauses with a verb), "ma" and "però" are pretty much interchangeable, but beyond that they each have their own specific uses. "Ma" can be used as an intensifier, like I said above, and it can also be used to connect elements without a verb (non X ma Y / X ma non Y). "Però" is not used as often in this way, but it is used in some cases to mean "though" ("Non mi piace, però," "Io però non lo faccio"), while "ma" is not. "Però" is also a bit more emphatic, as you saw.

August 22, 2019

Yes, ma can be used at the beginning of a sentence for additional emphasis. Also che can have the same purpose, but only with interrogative sentences. In this case, ma can be added before che.

È tardi. = It's late.
Ma è tardi! = It's late!

È tardi? = Is it late?
Che è tardi? = Is it late? (with some emphasis)
Ma è tardi? = Is it late? (with some emphasis)
Ma che è tardi? = Is it late? (with more emphasis)

The guidelines concerning the use of a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence allow both e (in this article by the Accademia) and ma (in Treccani, point 4, third paragraph).

August 22, 2019

ma / però

-> ma: can only be used in the beginning of the second sentence you want to link. example: Non vado al teatro ma vado al cinema.

-> però: can be used the same way like ma however it also can be use in the end of the second sentence. example: Non vado al teatro, vado al cinema però.

bensì: means 'but on the other side', but it's rarely used nowadays. It can only be used if the first sentence is negativ. example: non mi piacciono le macchine, bensì le bici.

tuttavia / eppure

both are used to express a partial contradiction, with what was said in a previous sentence.

examples: non mi piace il fungo, eppure lo mangio. non mi piace il fungo, tuttavia lo mangio.

However you cannot say: non mi piace la banana, tuttavia/eppure la mela. So if you have a total contrast in the sentence like in this example you would need to use ma or però. (non mi piace la banana, ma/però la mela.)

August 22, 2019

With regard to ma, però and bensì, you can take a look at this old discussion:

Tuttavia sounds more like "however", as Piero wrote.

August 22, 2019

Many thanks to all those who have replied. Most of my questions have been answered (thankyou) but I am still uncertain about the justification for the use of bensì. If you don't use it in a sentence where the comparator is only a noun (without a verb), which of the "but"'s do you use ? Does it matter ? (eg. I don't drink beer, but wine.)

August 22, 2019

You can say "io non bevo birra, bensí vino" . This is perfectly correct. I said only that "bensì" is not very used, we prefer to say "non bevo birra, ma vino". Another sentence: "io bevo vino, peró solo bianco". Here peró is a correction of the first sentence. To say "io bevo vino, ma solo bianco" is the same: i.m.h.o., here there are no differences between ma and peró.

August 22, 2019

Bensì is used for introducing the second clause of the sentence, in opposition to the first clause (always negative) which sounds like a wrong statement:
This is not beer [wrong statement], but wine.
He is not my brother [wrong statement], but my cousin.
I do not live in this house [wrong statement] but in that one.

In the sentence you mentioned:
I don't drink beer, but wine. the first clause or statement is not really 'wrong', so bensì would not be ungrammatical, but ma would be used more often.

Bensì is mainly used in written Italian. In the spoken language it is rarely heard (ma is the usual replacement).

August 22, 2019

That is excellent, now I better understand the use of bensì. Thank you

August 23, 2019

I think that "tuttavia" is like however, or also nevertheless. Peró and ma are like but. Bensí is a little archaic, it's going toward the extinction. To put "ma", or "peró" or "tuttavia", at the beginning of a sentence, is not very good, except that it's an exhortation or a rude question like "ma che cosa stai facendo?". In general, these conjuctions (ma peró tuttavia) have an adverse value: they combine sentences with contrasting contents, therefore it's better not to use them at the beginning of the sentence. Ps: you can also say "ma peró", it emphasizes the ma (but at school, any years ago, it was an error :-) I hope to be clear, sorry for my mistakes. Bye.

August 22, 2019

Pierobonal. I'm so glad bensì is out of style. I much prefer tuttavia, ma, or però.... A dopo

August 22, 2019

Update !!!

I've found the example where Però is used by DL at the beginning of a sentence. It is "Però mia nonna lo guardava sempre" - My grandmother always used to watch it." (Presumably Coronation Street, Some mothers' do have em, etc...) My reason to explain this is that DL gives these examples and, as a learner, you take them as "gospel" that they are valid, correct, accurate and something to remember. As I stated in my question, beginning the sentence with the word "but" is unusual if not grammatically incorrect, but hey, the answers given here cover the query completely.

August 30, 2019
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