Much Depends on Whether You Start Out on a Positive Note
The word pero means but — an adversative conjunction. It is adversative because it redirects the statement immediately preceding it. It is a conjunction because it will be followed by a clause — containing a conjugated verb. The word pero is used when the introductory clause is an affirmative statement and when what follows does not contradict it but adds to it in some way:
Vamos al teatro pero primero tenemos que comer (We're going to the theater but first we have to eat).
Juan parece estar cansado pero duerme mucho (Juan seems tired but he sleeps a lot).
If the introductory statement is negative, then sino is used. It also translates as but. However, what follows sino contradicts the opening statement. After sino, no conjugated verb is used. Instead, a noun, an adjective or an infinitive may be used:
Juan no es estudiante sino professor (Juan isn't a student, but rather a professor). Note that student and professor are nouns.
Juan no es alto sino bajo (Juan isn't tall, but rather short). Note that alto and bajo are adjectives.
Juan no quiere estudiar sino mirar una película (Juan doesn't want to study, but rather to watch a movie). Note that estudiar and mirar are infinitives.
If such negative statements are followed by a conjugated verb, then que must follow sino — it is the function of que to introduce a subordinated clause. Clauses, by definition, contain conjugated verbs. Notice that unlike the previous example using an infinitive as the point of contrast, in the following examples, the first clause also concludes with a conjugated verb.
Juan no estudia sino que trabaja (Juan doesn't study, but rather he works).
Juan no es amable sino que maltrata a todos sus colegas (Juan isn't friendly, but rather he mistreats his coworkers).
Juan no estudia mucho sino que pierde su tiempo mirando películas (Juan doesn't study much, but rather he wastes his time watching movies).
- Author's more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish.
This post is part of the series: Spanish Usage
- Spanish Usage Questions: "Above"
- Using "Actual" and "Actually" in Spanish
- A Problem Preposition: The Ways "About" is Expressed in Spanish
- The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb "to Agree"
- Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say "Again"
- Expressing the Many Meanings of After
- Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say "Ahead"
- Spanish Usage Questions: "Anyone" and "Anybody"
- Using "Anyway…" in Spanish
- Let's Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
- What Do You Use for "Around" in Spanish
- The Spanish Verbs Meaning "to Ask" are Many!
- Beware of False Cognates! How to Express "Attend," "Assist," and "Help"
- Are You "Cool" or "Cold"? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
- The Difference Between "Why" and "Because" in Spanish
- The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of "Before": How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Don't Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of "Behind" in Spanish
- Get the Low Down on the Preposition "Below" and Say it Right in Spanish!
- Understand Saying "Help" in Spanish
- Translating "Beside" & "Besides" into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
- Not all Meanings of "But" Are Equal!
- Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition "By" in Spanish
- What Can the English Word "Can" Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Spanish Usage Questions: "Corner"
- The Word "Country" in Spanish
- The Various Meanings of "Outweigh" in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
- Expressing the Idea of "Ownership" in Spanish
- How to Express "Time & Distance" in Spanish
- Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with… In Spanish, You Probably Need "Tratar"
- Spanish Usage Questions: "Having Fun"
- Even a Word Like "Even" Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
- Don't Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express "to fail"
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- Love, Desire and Wanting — Spanish Style!
- Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing… and More
- You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say "Fear" in Spanish!
- Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word "Find"
- Discover the Various Meanings of "Middle" and How to Say Them in Spanish
- Not All Spanish Words Meaning "Worker" Are Created Equal