Phrases Meaning 'Unless'

Subjunctive Mood Used in Dependent Clause

Peppers for Spanish lesson
No tengo problema a menos que coma alguna comida picante. (I don't have a problem unless I eat spicy food.). Dave Walker/Creative Commons

"A menos que" and "a no ser que" are two of the most common ways in Spanish to express the idea behind the English conjunction "unless." Because the verb following either one of these phrases refers to something that hasn't happened yet and may never happen, it typically is in the subjunctive mood.

In a sense, these phrases are used in making negative conditions, or the opposite of si or "if." In other words, these phrases are used to indicate that if a certain event (the one specified by a verb in the subjunctive mood) does not occur, then another event (using a verb in the indicative mood) will (or would, if the conditional tense is used).

Here are some examples using "a menos que":

  • A menos que tengas pasión en lo que haces, no vas a ser feliz. Unless you have passion about what you're doing, you're not going to be happy.
  • No aprobarás a menos que estudies mucho. You won't pass unless you study a lot.
  • A menos que el mundo despierte, la humanidad no tiene futuro. Unless the world wakes up, humanity doesn't have a future.
  • Generalmente no tengo problema a menos que coma alguna comida picante. Generally I don't have a problem unless I eat spicy food.
  • A menos que estuviera muy enojado, lloraría. Unless I were very angry, I would cry.
  • No podemos tener salud a menos que bebamos unos ocho vasos de agua al día. We can't be healthy unless we drink some eight glasses of water a day.

"A no ser que" is used in the same way and is nearly always interchangeable with "a menos que":

  • Va a ser difícil, a no ser que nieve bastante. It's going to be difficult, unless it snows enough.
  • La vida no es buena a no ser que uno tenga dinero. Life isn't good unless one has money.
  • No tendremos éxito a no ser que tengamos una visión global. We won't have success unless we have a global vision.
  • La vida no es aceptable a no ser que el cuerpo y el espíritu vivan en armonía. Life isn't acceptable unless the body and spirit live in harmony.

    These phrases can also be used along with commands instead of a verb in the indicative in the independent clause:

    • No lo haga a menos que comprenda todos los riesgos. Don't do it unless you understand all the risks.
    • Cómpralo, a no ser que tengas dudas. Buy it, unless you have doubts.

    Spanish also has several other less common phrases that have much the same meaning, as shown in boldface in the sentences below:

    • Un cuerpo permanecerá en un estado de reposo o de movimiento uniforme, a menos de que una fuerza externa actúe sobre él. A body will remain in a state of rest or steady motion, unless an external force acts on it.
    • Se recomienda no utilizarlo a reserva de que sea claramente necesario. Using it is not recommended unless it is clearly necessary.
    • De no ser que lleves ya una dieta muy bien equilibrada, será mejor que sigas estes consejos. Unless you follow a very balanced diet, it will be better if you follow this advice.
    • Llegaremos a las nueve salvo que el autobús se retrase. We will arrive at 9 unless the bus is late.
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    Your Citation
    Erichsen, Gerald. "Phrases Meaning 'Unless'." ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/phrases-meaning-unless-3079708. Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, March 2). Phrases Meaning 'Unless'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/phrases-meaning-unless-3079708 Erichsen, Gerald. "Phrases Meaning 'Unless'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/phrases-meaning-unless-3079708 (accessed January 24, 2018).