Using the Spanish 'Sin'

Preposition typically means 'without'

Man looking for a phone signal
Un hombre sin señal. (A man without a signal.).

Blend Images - Diego Cervo / Getty Images

The Spanish preposition sin generally means "without" and thus can be thought of as the opposite of con ("with"). For English speakers, its use is generally straightforward, the main difference being that it usually is not followed by an indefinite article (un or una, meaning "a"). Here are some examples of its use:

  • Para el paciente sin esperanza, no existe futuro. (For the patient without hope, a future does not exist.)
  • Nunca conduzco sin gafas. (I never drive without glasses.)
  • Daniela no podrá ir a la escuela sin computadora. (Daniela will not be able to go to the school without a computer.)
  • Cuando la gente vive sin felicidad, no temerán a la muerte. (When people live without happiness, they will not fear death.)
  • Hay muchos hogares sin teléfono. (There are many homes without a telephone.)

Sometimes phrases using sin are better translated using the English suffix "-less" or "-free":

  • Las parejas sin hijos sufren muchas críticas. (Childless couples receive much criticism.)
  • Los diamantes sin defectos son extremadamente raros. (Flawless diamonds are very unusual.)
  • ¿Son los refrescos sin azúcar la solución al problema? (Are sugar-free drinks the solution to the problem?)

When To Use an Indefinite Article With Sin

If the indefinite article is used after sin, it often is done for emphasis. Also, if the object (the noun after sin) is followed by an adjective or a clause, the indefinite article is often used:

  • Yo estaba en México sin un centavo. (I was in Mexico without a single cent.)
  • Se fue sin un adiós. (He left without even saying goodbye.)
  • No hay democracia sin un orden social liberal. (There is no democracy without a liberal social order.)
  • La clonación de un dinosaurio sería imposible sin un óvulo de dinosaurio intacto. (The cloning of a dinosaur would be impossible without an intact dinosaur egg.)

Following Sin With Infinitives

When sin is followed by a verb, nearly always the infinitive form is used. Note how these sentences are translated to Spanish. In particular, the final two examples use sin in a way that "without" is not used in English:

  • Tengo que aprender a vivir sin fumar. (I need to learn to live without smoking.)
  • Aprender sin pensar es inútil. (Learning without thinking is useless.)
  • Sin leer es imposible escribir bien. (Without reading it is impossible to write well.)
  • Hay muchas lecciones sin aprender. (There are many unlearned lessons.)
  • La lata sin abrir puede durar hasta 12 meses. (An unopened can can last for 12 months.)

Phrases Using Sin

Dozens of phrases use sin. Here's a sampling:

asociación civil sin fines de lucro, organización sin fines de lucro — nonprofit organization

aun sin — even without. Example: Cuando uno es inteligente, aun sin estudiar puede pasar con 100. (Someone intelligent can pass with a 100 even without studying.)

ausente sin aviso — absent without permission

barril sin fondo, pozo sin fondo — bottomless pit (usually used figuratively)

callejón sin salida — dead-end street (can be used figuratively)

dejar sin efecto — to invalidate, to render useless

estar sin blanca, estar sin un cobre — to be penniless or broke

sin motivo — for no good reason, for no known reason

misterio sin resolver — unsolved mystery

quedarse sin nada — to end up with nothing. Example: La atleta puso todo pero se quedó sin nada. (The athlete gave it her all but ended up with nothing.)

quedarse sin palabras — to be at a loss for words

repetir sin parar — to say over and over again

sin asombro — surprisingly

sin cesar — without stopping, continuously

sin compromiso — without any obligation

sin contar con — to ignore possible consequences, to not take into account

sin coste — free, without charge

sin defensa — defenseless

sin dirección, sin rumbo — aimless, without goals

sin duda — without a doubt, undoubtedly

sin ganas — enenthusiastically, unwillingly

sin hacer — undone

sin otro particular — without further ado

sin par — unique, without an equal

sin pensar — without thinking

sin razón — with no reason

sin tardar — immediately, without delay

sin ton ni son — without rhyme or reason

viaje sin retorno — one-way trip

vivir sin — to live without. Example: No puedo vivir con ti. (I can't live without you.)

Key Takeaways

  • Sin is usually the equivalent of "without" in English.
  • When sin is followed by a noun object, it is seldom necessary to place an un or una before the noun, although one is sometimes used for emphasis.
  • Sin is frequently used in phrases, most of whose meanings can be determined by translating the other words in the phrase.