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I need to use a couple verbal turns. The first looks like 'to open the bottle, not the box', the second does not seem correct to me but probably in German it will work better: 'to open not the box, but the bottle'.

So should the verb go in the end of the sentence or in the end of the first clause? How to say it all better? What about punctuation?

Es war notwendig, nicht die Flasche zu entdecken, aber den Kasten.

or

Es war notwendig, nicht die Flasche aber den Kasten zu entdecken.

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    If your German examples are meant as translations of the English ones: why did you choose to translate open with entdecken? Also: could you give more context, please? I don't understand what you want to express. – Matthias Jul 28 '15 at 18:34
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    I need a verb that can replace another one in the following phrases: 'discover the secret' and 'open the bottle'. entdecken is the only probably. Context: 'Many philosophers realized too late that it was necessary to open the bottles, not the secrets'. I write a text about schwarzgebranntes. – aspermag Jul 28 '15 at 20:57
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    @aftermag So you are essentially looking for a verb that can express "open a bottle" and "reveal a secret", to translate that word play, right? I'm afraid entdecken won't do this. And you should rephrase your question, if I understood you correctly. – Matthias Jul 28 '15 at 21:34
  • The context for the "secrets" is still missing, but if a single verb is not working, just use two: Viele Philosophen verstanden zu spät, dass man lieber die Flaschen öffnen soltte, statt die Geheimnisse aufzudecken. (Though "aufdecken" might be the wrong verb; as I said, the context is missing). "Notwendig" makes the construction clumsy. – dirkt yesterday
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Your first sentence is correct, except that you should go with sondern instead of aber. In the sense of rather (not ... but ...), you translate but as sondern.
This is also true for your second sentence. That sentence, however, additionally misses a comma. Always put a comma before sondern. And also before aber.

Es war notwendig, nicht die Flasche, sondern den Kasten zu öffnen.

That being said, using "man musste" sounds more natural to me:

Man musste die Flasche öffnen, (aber) nicht den Kasten.
Man musste nicht die Flasche öffnen, sondern den Kasten.

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You should replace »aber« by »sondern«:

Es war notwendig nicht die Flasche zu entdecken, sondern den Kasten.

Also correct:

Es war notwendig nicht die Flasche, sondern den Kasten zu entdecken.

In english:

It was necessary not to discover the bottle, but the box.

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