What’s the Difference Between Pero and Sino?
Is there a difference between pero and sino if they both mean “but” in Spanish?
Yes, there is.
And not only will you learn what that difference is, but how to use these words correctly. No more confusion!
Spanish grammar has a way of taking you for a spin and leaving you dizzy. But fear not!
Anything is digestible if you take one bite at a time.
In this blog post, we’ll tackle the seemingly similar Spanish words: pero and sino. While these two conjunctions are translated as “but” in Spanish, you’ll learn the secret to how they function in a sentence.
Where to Begin? A Look at Conjunctions
To make sense of this, let’s start with conjunctions.
These are words that join phrases, sentences, and even single words. Think “and,” “or,” “for,” and “if.” And this is where our “but” comes in! These conjunctions create a connection between clauses and exist in various categories.
The two main categories are:
- Coordinating conjunctions
- Subordinating conjunctions
The coordinating conjunctions are words that link two sentences or ideas, and they can both be independent from each other. On the other hand, sentences that use subordinating conjunctions need the addition of another clause to make sense.
Here’s what I mean:
Coordinating Conjunction: y (and)
Fuimos al cine y cenamos después.
We went to the movies and had dinner afterwards.
Subordinating Conjunction: como (since)
Como no está lloviendo, no necesito una sombrilla.
Since it’s not raining, I don’t need an umbrella.
After having established whether a conjunction is coordinating or subordinating, you can classify them depending on the function they serve within a sentence.
Types of Conjunctions
1. Causal Conjunctions
They express cause or give an explanation.
- como (since)
- dado que (given that)
- porque (because)
Tomo agua porque tengo sed.
I drink water because I’m thirsty.
2. Conditional Conjunctions
They express a condition or the need to verify something.
- a menos que (unless)
- en caso de (in case of)
Cerraré la tienda en caso de emergencia.
I’ll close the shop in case of emergency.
3. Correlative Conjunctions
They are a pair of words that connect two different parts of a phrase.
- tal… que (such… that)
- no solo… sino que también (not only… but also)
Tal era su tristeza que escribió una canción de ello.
Such was his sadness that he wrote a song about it.
4. Explicative Conjunctions
With these words, the second clause explains the first one.
- es decir (that is / that is to say)
- mejor dicho (or rather)
El esposo de su hermana—es decir, su cuñado—era un arquitecto.
His sister’s husband—that is, his brother-in-law—was an architect.
5. Adversative Conjunctions
They express opposition or difference between two clauses.
- sin embargo (however)
- no obstante (nevertheless)
Sofía estudió toda la noche para el examen; sin embargo, se cancelaron las clases y su esfuerzo fue en vano.
Sofía studied all night for the exam; however, classes were canceled and her efforts were in vain.
And these are only a few examples.
Pero and Sino—Two Sides of The Same Coin
Pero and sino are adversative conjunctions, meaning that they are used when opposition is involved.
Here’s something to keep in mind, though:
Pero and sino are not interchangeable.
Sure, both of them are translated as “but,” but they each have their own specific functions. With these tips and a bit of practice, you’ll be able to identify when to use each one.
How to Use the Spanish Word Pero
1. Contrast Ideas
The word pero contrasts two ideas and adds information. If the second clause contradicts the first clause, the conjunction pero follows a comma.
Tiene hambre, pero no hay comida.
He’s hungry, but there’s no food.
Meanwhile, if it’s just linking two similar thoughts, no comma is necessary.
La película fue larga pero emocionante.
The movie was long but exciting.
In the following examples, notice how some of the first clauses are positive while others are negative.
Additionally, note that the second clause in each sentence serves to add extra information—especially in the sentences where the conjunction joins two adjectives.
Positive first clause, contradiction after pero:
Claudia necesita pinceles nuevos, pero no tiene dinero.
Claudia needs new paintbrushes, but she doesn’t have money.
Soy colombiana, pero vivo en Australia.
I am Colombian, but I live in Australia.
Negative first clause, contradiction after pero:
No le gustan las matemáticas, pero tiene tarea y debe hacerla.
She doesn’t like math, but she has homework and must do it.
Daniel no ha comprado su boleto, pero quiere ir al concierto.
Daniel hasn’t bought his ticket, but he wants to go to the concert.
Linking two adjectives
La sopa estaba caliente pero deliciosa.
The soup was hot but delicious.
2. Emphasize a Statement
Pero is also used at the beginning of a sentence to make emphasis on a statement. In writing, you can place pero outside of emphatic punctuation (like question marks or exclamation marks) or within them, depending on the intonation or pitch given to the word.
Pero ¿qué es esto?
But, what is this?
¡Pero qué lindo día!
But what a nice day!
PRO TIP: The conjunction mas (not to be confused with más) also means pero. While you may hear this word pop up on rare occasions, mas is seen as highly formal and is more appropriate for literature or academic texts.
Soy competitivo, mas no soy violento.
I’m competitive, but I’m not violent.
How to Use the Spanish Word Sino
Similar to pero, the word sino opposes two ideas. However, unlike pero, it never starts a sentence and the first clause is always negative. This is the most useful tip to remember when deciding if sino is the conjunction to use.
In the following examples, notice how all of the first clauses are negative.
Mi prima no es baja, sino alta.
My cousin is not short, but tall.
No vino a pasear, sino a trabajar.
He didn’t come for a stroll, but to work.
Paula no es la hermana mayor, sino la menor.
Paula is not the oldest sister, but the youngest.
No iremos a la playa, sino a las montañas.
We will not go to the beach, but to the mountains.
PRO TIP! The word sino is also a noun, meaning “destiny.”
Mi sino es ser una escritora famosa.
My destiny is to be a famous writer.
Practice Your Skills: Pero vs Sino Exercises
You’ve picked up on the difference between pero and sino—now it’s time to practice!
Match the correct conjunction to the sentence by choosing pero or sino.
Need a helpful tip? Keep in mind that sino is used to oppose statements whereas pero can add information.
- Enrique pintó la casa de amarillo, ______ a Jaime no le gustó.
- El cumpleaños de Luisa no es en agosto ______ en noviembre.
- La Marsellesa no es de Suiza ______ de Francia.
- Teníamos planes para reunirnos, ______ la lluvia nos obligó a cancelar la actividad.
- Lucía no compra pantalones ______ blusas y suéteres.
- Quería levantarme temprano, ______ no escuché la alarma.
- Mi padre quiere aprender a cocinar, ______ no tiene tiempo.
- Yo no compré la revista ______ mi tía fue quien lo hizo.
- No vengo de Alemania, ______ de Canadá.
- Ana quiere adoptar un perro, ______ su novio prefiere los gatos.
Get Ready For More Practice!
Regularly completing exercises like these is your key to familiarizing yourself with this subject! While conjunctions may seem daunting—considering how many there are and especially when you encounter intricate cases like pero and sino—you have the power to overcome this obstacle through practice.
The old adage of “practice makes perfect” rings true in the realm of Spanish grammar. To make the most of your practice time, reap the rewards of a FREE 1-on-1 session with a certified, native Spanish-speaking professional from Guatemala. Sign up for a free class to start practicing the difference between pero and sino in real-time with friendly teachers who love exploring this topic!
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