Spanish has three different words for but: pero, mas, and sino.
Pero – the most commonly used
The most commonly used is pero, and it will do for most instances, e.g.
- Llegué tarde, pero sin sueño. I arrived late, but I’m not sleepy;
- No hay tortillas, pero sí hay pan. There are no tortillas, but there is bread;
- No sé si es correcto, pero lo voy a decir. I don’t know if this is right, but I’m going to say it.
Pero can also be used as a noun, as in no pongas peros, which means don’t make excuses, and is roughly equivalent to the English expression “no ifs, ands, or buts.”
Mas – without an accent
Mas without an accent —it has an accent when it means ‘more’— can substitute pero, although its use is generally more literary and it’s not heard often in everyday speech:
- Me gusta el rojo, mas [pero] no el verde. I like the red one but not the green one;
- Te perdono, mas [pero] no lo vuelvas a hacer. I forgive you, but don’t do it again.
Sino – used to describe an alternative
Sino should be used for constructions of “not this, but that,” e.g.
- La casa no es roja, sino amarilla. The house isn’t red, but yellow.
- El camión de basura no viene los martes sino los miércoles. The garbage truck doesn’t come on Tuesdays but on Wednesdays.
Nouns or adjectives following sino can stand alone, their context being clear from what went before.
You could say: “El camión de basura no viene los martes, pero sí viene los miércoles“.
However, if you said just “no viene los martes pero los miércoles” the listener would be left waiting for the rest of the clause implied by the use of pero. If that listener were a grumpy grammarian, he might say, ¿pero los miércoles qué?
Sino can also be followed by longer clauses or sentences, for example:
- No me molesta que las películas siempre tengan violencia, sino que siempre tengan finales larguísimos.
Substitutions in Spanish for ‘But’
Like English, Spanish has longer words that can be substituted for but, such as however, or nevertheless:
- Sin embargo is the most common; and
- No obstante, can mean ‘however’ or ‘nevertheless’, but can also be followed by a noun and mean ‘despite’, or ‘notwithstanding’; for example,
- “No obstante la lluvia, dimos un paseo por el bosque.“ Despite the rain we went for a walk in the woods.
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