What’s the difference between pero, sino and si no?

Introduction

Pero and sino are both adversative conjunctions: they are linking words that introduce a contrast. They can be translated as but and but (rather) respectively. However, the phrase si no (if not) belongs to a different grammatical category but is easily confused with sino. Learn to use these three confusing words correctly with Lingolia’s examples, then test your knowledge in the exercises.

Me encantan los helados. Pero no me gusta cualquier sabor, sino solo los de chocolate y vainilla.

Solo como helados en verano; si no, me resfrío.

pero

Pero can be translated into English as but. It is an adversative conjunction: it contrasts two different ideas or concepts.

  • When it connects two clauses, it is preceded by a comma.
    Example:
    Tengo muchas ganas de ir al lago, pero tengo que trabajar.I really want to go to the lake, but I have to work.
  • When pero connects two words, we do not use a comma.
    Example:
    El viaje fue largo pero tranquilo.The journey was long but peaceful.
  • When pero is followed by a parenthetical remark, pero is placed between commas.
    Example:
    Había entrenado muy duro, pero, aún asi, la carrera fue dura.I had trained really hard, but, nonetheless, the race was hard.
  • When used at the beginning of a sentence that has no relation to the sentence before, pero gives emphasis to what the speaker is saying
    Example:
    Pero ¡qué pastel tan delicioso!(But) what a delicious cake!
    No comma.
  • We can also include pero in the exclamation marks.
    Example:
    ¡Pero qué pastel tan delicioso!

sino

  • Sino can be translated into English as but (rather). It is an adversative conjunction; it denies one concept by affirming another.
    Example:
    No he comprado zumo de naranja sino de manzana.I didn’t buy orange juice but apple juice.

    The first clause must be negated.

  • When sino connects two sentences, it is preceded by a comma and followed by que.
    Example:
    El año pasado no viajé a Cuba, sino que me fui de vacaciones a Ecuador.Last year I didn’t go to Cuba but I went on holiday to Ecuador.
  • When sino is a noun it means destino (destiny).
    Example:
    Mi sino es viajar a la Luna.My destiny is to travel to the moon.

si no

  • Si no is the combination of the conjunction si (if) and the negative adverb no (not). It has a conditional meaning of if not.
    Example:
    Perderás el autobús si no te das prisa.You’ll miss the bus if you don’t hurry.
  • If the clause that expresses the condition comes first we write si no between commas.
    Example:
    Date prisa; si no, perderás el autobús.Hurry up; if you don’t, you’ll miss the bus.