Difference between pero, sino and sino que (but)

In Spanish we can say "but" in three different ways: pero, sino or sino que.

This is generally confusing for English speakers because both conjunctions  have a similar function in the sentence.

Let's see how they are different:

Pero

Pero is a conjunction that is used in a second sentence to make a contrast or make a limitation to the idea expressed in the previous sentence.

Have a look at these examples:

Le gusta jugar al fútbol pero prefiere el baloncesto.
He likes playing football but he prefers basketball.

No puedo salir hoy pero saldré mañana.
I cannot go out today but will go out tomorrow.

In both examples above, the second sentences after pero are expressing a contrast to the first part.

Acepto tu oferta pero con una condición.
I accept your offer but with one condition.

Andrea no es un nombre de niño pero también suena bien para chicos.
Andrea is not a boy's name but it also sounds ok for boys.

In the examples above, the second sentences after pero are expressing a limitation to the first part.

Sino

Sino is also a conjunction, we use it to correct what has been said in the first part of the sentence. In the first part of the sentence there is always a negative element and after sino we substitute that element for another.

Pablo no habla español sino portugués.
Pablo does not speak Spanish but Portuguese.

Esta noche no vamos al cine sino al teatro.
Tonight we are not going to the cinema but to the theatre.

No estoy buscando el vestido azul sino el vestido rojo.
I am not looking for the blue dress but the red dress.

Notice how in all the examples above first there is a negative part of the sentence and the second part introduced by sino substitutes the negative element from the first part.

It would be incorrect to use sino when the first part of the sentence is affirmative:

Tenemos vino de La Rioja sino vino de Extremadura.
No tenemos vino de la Rioja sino vino de Extremadura.
We don't have any wine from La Rioja but [we have wine] from Extremadura.

We need to give special attention to negative sentences because both pero and sino can be used and they seem very similar.

Let's see how to differentiate them:

El dinero no es todo pero ayuda muchísimo.
Money is not everything but it helps a lot.

Andrea no es un nombre de niño sino de niña.
Andrea is not a boy's name but a girl's name.

In the first example we are adding an idea that makes a contrast with the first negative idea. (pero)

In the second example we are not adding an idea but giving a substitute to the first negative idea. (sino)

 

Sino que...

In all the examples above with sino, the verb in the second part of the sentence is omitted because it is the same verb as in the first part so we do not need to mention it again: 

Esta noche no vamos al cine sino [vamos] al teatro.
Tonight we are not going to the cinema but [we are going] to the theatre.

If we need a different conjugated verb in the second sentence after sino, then we need to add "que" after sino.

Hoy no sales con tus amigos sino que te quedas en casa.
Today you are not going out with your friends but you are staying at home.

En mi fiesta no hicimos juegos tradicionales sino que bailamos sin parar.
At my party we didn't do traditional games but we danced nonstop.

Be careful:
The conjunction sino is a single word, not two (si no)

 

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Andrea no es un nombre de niño sino de niña.
Andrea is not a boy's name but a girl's name.


Acepto tu oferta pero con una condición.
I accept your offer but with one condition.


Esta noche no vamos al cine sino al teatro.
Tonight we are not going to the cinema but to the theatre.


El dinero no es todo pero ayuda muchísimo.
Money is not everything but it helps a lot.


No puedo salir hoy pero saldré mañana.
I cannot go out today but will go out tomorrow.


En mi fiesta no hicimos juegos tradicionales sino que bailamos sin parar.
At my party we didn't do traditional games but we danced nonstop.


Le gusta jugar al fútbol pero prefiere el baloncesto.
He likes playing football but he prefers basketball.


Hoy no sales con tus amigos sino que te quedas en casa.
Today you are not going out with your friends but you are staying at home.


No estoy buscando el vestido azul sino el vestido rojo.
I am not looking for the blue dress but the red dress.


Andrea no es un nombre de niño pero también suena bien para chicos.
Andrea is not a boy's name but it also sounds ok for boys.


Pablo no habla español sino portugués.
Pablo does not speak Spanish but Portuguese.


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