i don't understand the difference between them, feel free to add examples i was given this sentence for зато and dint see why но couldn't be substituted for it.

i don't like the metro and the airport express goes too slowly, on the other hand it’s reliable,

я не люблю метро, а в аероэкспрессе слишком медленно, зато надёжно

я не люблю метро, а в аероэкспрессе слишком медленно но надёжно

Could they be interchanged? Someone told me но feels more natural and i'm not sure if that is correct.

  • Your sentence should be "Я не люблю метро, а аероэкспрессом... ". Or simply "Я не люблю метро, а аероэкспресс слишком медленный, зато надёжный."
    – AR.
    Mar 27, 2019 at 5:20
  • No, it still doesn't work at all.
    – AR.
    Mar 28, 2019 at 1:30
  • It does not. Not at all. IWhat kind of a teacher do you have? "Аэроэкспрессе" is wrong. You can either use "в Аэроэкспрессе", though it's still incorrect as it simply implies "inside of it" or "Аэроэспрессом", which is much better. Or you can simply leave the train name as is - "Аэроэкспресс", but then you'll need a hyphen (with or without "это").
    – AR.
    Mar 28, 2019 at 3:37
  • Whether to split "зато" into the words it was probably formed from, "за то" - literally reads "for this", so it directly hints at [accepted, or at least recognized and tolerated] trade-off. More so, they are not mutually exclusive! You can well say: "Аэроэкспресс медленный, но зато надёжный". Here "но" shows the contrast, some controversy, conflict. And "зато" conveys your personal attitude for both cons and pros. So, I would not think about "substitution" here, I would think that the full expression is always "но зато", then depending upon your need/goal you remove either one word or another.
    – Arioch
    Mar 29, 2019 at 13:50
  • Granted, it is not exactly true, there are phrases where only "но" alone can be used, but as a rule of thumb, as a tool I suggest thinking like that. No substitution, but culling one of the two words that in the given context would be more redundant.
    – Arioch
    Mar 29, 2019 at 13:51

2 Answers 2


"Зато" implies a trade-off. "Но" ("But") is generic.

If there is no trade-off (explicit positives and negatives) between the options, "зато" can not be used. If a trade-off is described, "зато" and "но" can be used interchangeably. "Зато" can be used to stress particular advantage (more typically) or disadvantage.

  • so its like "On the other hand" or "To compare"?
    – Almonds812
    Mar 27, 2019 at 0:41
  • 1
    @Almonds812 yes, that's "зато"
    – Alexander
    Mar 27, 2019 at 0:49

Etymologically, the word ''зато'' obviously originated from ''за то,'' which literally means ''for that.'' The implication is a trade-off, as Alexander already wrote in his answer.

Here is a sentence in which ''но'' cannot be replaced by ''зато'':

Я хотела это сделать, но у меня не получилось = I wanted to do it, but did not succeed.

Here is a sentence in which ''зато'' cannot be replaced by ''но'':

Целый час пришлось в очереди сидеть, зато книжку наконец дочитала = I had to spend an hour waiting for my turn, the positive side being that I was finally able to complete reading the book.

Perhaps the closest English expression to ''зато'' is ''on the flip side.''

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