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I'm sure someone asked a similar question but I did a search and couldn't find any. Usually I just translate everything into but, but (no pun intended) I think it's about time I got into the nitty gritty of the buts, similar to the different kinds of "thanks" and the different kinds of "sorrys". So here is an exhaustive list of buts.

Off the top of my head, here are the different types of buts I can recall and the basics of what I already know. If you can add to the list, please do so.

Sentence-initial buts (used at the beginning of the sentence):

  • でも (general purpose but)
  • しかし (sounds formal?; apparently the shortened form of しかしながら)
  • ただ (sounds formal?)
  • ただし (related to above? more formal than ただ?)
  • ところが (nuance currently unknown)

Phrase joining buts (used to join two phrases):

  • が (general purpose but; in casual speech/writing where rules can be broken, が can be used in the sentence initial position instead of embedded within in sentence)
  • けど
  • けれど
  • けれども (the longer it is, the more formal)

Unknown buts:

  • 然{しか}るに (found from a dictionary search; I personally have never seen it before today)

In explaining the differences, please, where possible, also consider whether a particular but leans more towards casual speech or formal speech, and whether it appears more in writing, or in speech, or both.

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If you can add to the list, please do so. Are you considering although as well as but (like ~のに, etc.) since they have similar meanings? – istrasci Dec 8 '13 at 1:26
Words/grammar meaning "despite", "in spite of", "although", etc is quite the can of worms isn't it? Personally, I'm content with the list of buts I already have, but if anyone else thinks adding the related "although etc" words would be helpful for future viewers, be my guest. – Lord of Gall 胆 Bladder Dec 9 '13 at 14:30
Well, I was thinking of それにしても and (それ)にもかかわらず. Add them or not; it's up to you. Just trying to give more ideas to increase your "arsenal". – istrasci Dec 9 '13 at 15:43
@istrasci でも, which comes from "それでも" and それにしても (also a shortened form にしても) work in exactly the same way (one using the particle て(で from にて) and the other the particle して) and can be considered roughly equivalent. I see それにしても more often in writing. にもかかわらず is literally "Not affected by fact A, B" roughly means "despite". – Kafka Fuura Dec 10 '13 at 0:00
@istrasci If we want to generalize it, 逆接 or "contradictory conjunction"? – Kafka Fuura Dec 10 '13 at 0:02

The best way is to look each of these terms up individually in Japanese language dictionaries and check examples of usage, but here's a translated synopsis. Many of these meanings overlap.

でも: "though that may be the case" / (though the prior statement may be true)

しかし: "in contrast to the previous statement" / (lit. "unlike" the prior statement)

ただし: is used when providing a condition to the previous statement. (A、ただしB = A is true (but only) given B)

ただ: similar to ただし, what follows provides additional information about the previous statement. (another word that does this is もっとも)

ところが: "in contrast to expectations" / (what would not be expected given the previous statement) / While A is true, contrarily B is true. / Roughly equivalent to そうであるのに/しかるに.

しかるに: しかる roughly means そうである and the に translates into のに.

けれども・けれど・けども・けど all come from an adjective conjugation. ど/ども is a particle that attaches to the 已然形 of adjectives to form ~けれども (though A is true B is also true), which was then isolated and became a word itself. Thus all of the words have the same basic meaning of "although", with the longer ones being more formal.

が has the "although" meaning as one of several meanings, including "casual connection", so it's use is more broad. It can be used in both casual and polite situations. When が comes at the beginning of a sentence it is almost always ですが or だが, unless the context is very informal.

のに comes from the conjunctive particle に, which is often translated as "despite"/"even though" (the のに/なのに comes from an old requirement to satisfy condition that the previous word must be in the 連体形, the の being used to distinguish 連体形 from 終止形). However, there is usually an emotional connection/feeling of lacking/disappointment when のに is used, especially if it ends the phrase. However, it is also occasionally used like が to make a casual connection.

Hope that helps.

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I'm just gonna extend some constructions with what I know, if I may. ところが is also used in narrative, i.e. "in contrast, he didn't go to school" I also believe that ただし is kind of formal, though I'm not sure. My teacher uses this a lot when contacting students. – razorramon Mar 5 '14 at 21:45

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