Even if you haven’t been on the receiving end of these words, you’re sure to have heard them at some point.
It might not come as a surprise that “but” is one of the most common words in the English language, especially if you’re a parent.
It’s just as important for any learner to know the Spanish equivalents.
That’s right: equivalents, plural. Spanish has several words that capture what the English catch-all “but” expresses.
But don’t panic! Learning the distinctions between these similar words is easy with a bit of practice. All you have to do is learn the words for “but,” “but rather” and “except” in Spanish.
No Buts About It: Say “But” in Spanish Using Pero, Sino and More
With so many ways to say “but,” it can take a while before you really feel like you have the hang of it. However, the best way to really master these words to keep practicing and listen to native speakers talk.
To engage with some content for and by native speakers, look no further than FluentU.
FluentU takes videos from across the internet and turns them into mini-lessons to help you master Spanish as it’s really spoken. FluentU is perfect for beginners and advanced learners alike, and it even customizes lessons based on what you already know.
No matter what your background in Spanish is like, FluentU really can help: no ifs, ands or buts.
Pero: The Big “But”
Pero is the most common way to say “but” in Spanish.
And fortunately, it’s easy to master: Simply put, pero is used when the second part of the sentence doesn’t contradict the first.
To illustrate this point, let’s take this English sentence:
“I have dogs, but I don’t have cats.”
The first part of the sentence establishes the fact that you have dogs and the second part does nothing to challenge this statement because having a dog or having a cat aren’t mutually exclusive. Therefore, the sentence in Spanish would be:
“Tengo perros, pero no tengo gatos.“
Still a bit confused? Don’t worry! We’ll let you in on a little cheat: If you can replace “but” in English by breaking the sentence into two and starting the second with “however,” then you should use pero in Spanish.
Let’s look back at our original example. “I have dogs, but I don’t have cats” can be rephrased as “I have dogs. However, I don’t have cats” and retain its original meaning. Therefore, pero makes sense in the Spanish translation.
Here are a few more sentences with pero:
Me gusta la paella, pero a él no. — I like the paella, but he doesn’t.
Tiene clase mañana, pero no va a ir. — He has class tomorrow, but he’s not going to go.
Queremos ir a Puerto Rico, pero no tenemos suficiente dinero. — We want to go to Puerto Rico, but we don’t have enough money.
Sino: It’s Really “Rather” Simple
It’s time to meet our next “but”!
If you’ve made a hobby out of correcting other people, then you’re going to love sino.
Though they both translate to “but,” sino functions very differently from pero! Whereas pero is used when the second part of the sentence doesn’t contradict the first, sino is used when a contradiction exists.
Let’s take a look at an example:
No estoy en Uruguay, sino Paraguay. — I’m not in Uruguay, but Paraguay.
iino is used in this sentence is because the fact that you’re in Paraguay means that you’re not in Uruguay. Here, the second part of the sentence (bring in Paraguay) negates the first (being in Uruguay).
Just like the “however” trick with pero, there’s a shortcut you can use with sino, as well: If the word “but” can be replaced by “but rather” in the English sentence, then you should use sino in the corresponding Spanish sentence.
Since the English sentence above can be logically changed to “I’m not in Uruguay, but rather Paraguay,” the Spanish translation makes sense.
Now, are you ready for a twist?
Sino is only used when “but” is followed by a noun or un-conjugated verb. If there’s a conjugated verb in there, sino changes to sino que. But don’t worry, all of our rules about sino still apply with sino que.
Ready for an example?
No caminaron, sino que corrieron. — They didn’t walk, but they ran.
Sino is used here because the fact that they ran means they couldn’t have walked. And since corrieron is a conjugated verb, the word que is added after sino.
Before we move on, there’s one more use of sino and sino que you should know about: The English structure “Not only x, but also y” is rendered in Spanish as “No solo x, sino y también.”
No solo hablo español, sino francés también. — I speak not only Spanish, but also French.
Let’s take a look at some more sentences with sino:
No somos de Los Ángeles, sino de Nueva York. — We’re not from Los Angeles, but rather New York.
No salta, sino que vuela. — It doesn’t jump, but rather flies.
No solo tiene pan tostado, sino huevos también. — He doesn’t just have toast, but eggs too.
Excepto, Salvo and Menos: The Same in All But Name
Excepto, salvo and menos can all be used when stating exceptions to a general rule. In other words, they’re a lot like the English “except.”
In English, “but” and “except” act as synonyms in many cases. When this happens, excepto, salvo and menos all work. Though these three words have other definitions as well, they can all be used to mean “but” with no difference in meaning.
To drive this point home, let’s try translating this sentence into Spanish:
“Everyone but Jorge said yes.”
Since “but” can be replaced by “except” and still make sense, we can use excepto, salvo or menos. We therefore have three possible ways to write this sentence:
“Todos excepto Jorge dijeron que sí.”
“Todos salvo Jorge dijeron que sí.”
“Todos menos Jorge dijeron que sí.”
Here are a few more examples that can use any one of these words:
Nos gustan todos los animales excepto los chanchos. — We like all the animals but the pigs.
Han ido a cada estado salvo Nevada. — They have been to every state but Nevada.
Tengo tiempo libre cada día menos el martes. — I have free time every day but Tuesday.
It’s Your Turn! Practice Using “But” in Spanish
We’ve covered a lot of ways to say the word “but.” Are you ready to practice all these new words and expressions at the same time?
Try translating the following sentences into Spanish, focusing on using the right word for “but.” The answers are below.
1. I’ve been to every Spanish-speaking country but Equatorial Guinea.
2. She wants milk but she doesn’t want sugar.
3. They didn’t just eat pasta, but also pizza.
4. We’re not Mexicans, but Guatemalans.
5. I’m in the restaurant, but I don’t see her.
6. You invited everyone but him.
7. They didn’t drive, but rather they walked.
8. You have a computer, but I don’t.
9. He doesn’t read, but rather he writes.
10. I like every flavor but chocolate.
1. He ido a cada país hispanohablante excepto/salvo/menos Guinea Ecuatorial.
2. Quiere leche pero no quiere azúcar.
3. No solo comieron pasta, sino pizza también.
4. No somos mexicanos, sino guatemaltecos.
5. Estoy en el restaurante, pero no la veo.
6. Invitaste a todos excepto/salvo/menos a él.
7. No manejaron, sino que caminaron.
8. Tienes (alternatively tenés or tiene) una computadora, pero yo no.
9. No lee, sino que escribe.
10. Me gusta cada sabor excepto/salvo/menos chocolate.
And that’s all there is to it! Put your new words to use in conversations and never confuse your Spanish “but” expressions again.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.