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:
PeroPero 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:
In both examples above, the second sentences after pero are expressing a contrast to the first part.
In the examples above, the second sentences after pero are expressing a limitation to the first part.
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.
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:
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)
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.
The conjunction sino is a single word, not two (si no)
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