Chinese Grammar: Expressing “unless” with 除非
In Chinese, when dealing with hypothetical situations and their outcomes, there are many ways to express conditionality in a sentence. We’ve already learned how to express “only...if” and “if...then” in Chinese, so today let’s look at how to express “unless” with 除非 and few other ways.
除非 is a conjunction word in Chinese, you can use it alone to form a simple pattern to express “unless”. Attention, the second part after 除非 is what the speaker emphasized.
你 不 能 吃 ， 除非 你 付钱 。
You can’t eat it unless you pay for it.
你 不 可以 回家 ， 除非 你 把 作业 写完。
You can’t go home until you finish your homework.
Using 除非 with 否则 and 不然
除非 can also be used in a sentence pattern with 否则 and 不然 as in English “unless...otherwise...”. And there aren’t any worries to interchange use these two words without changing the meaning.
除非 A, 否则/不然 B
除非 你 在 ， 否则 我 不会 去。
Unless you’re present, otherwise I won’t go.
除非 你 说 对不起 ， 否则 我 不会 原谅 你。
Unless you say sorry, I won’t forgive you.
除非 你 告诉 我 ， 不然 我 不会 理 你。
Unless you tell me, I won’t talk to you anymore.
除非 你 学 汉语 ， 不然 我 不 做 你 女朋友。
Unless you learn Chinese, otherwise I won’t be your girlfriend.
Expressing “only if” with 除非
As we learned to express “only if” with 只有...才, we can also express it with 除非...才.
You can understand it as two parts. Starts by 除非 with something that can happen followed by the second part that begins by 才 with the condition of the realization.
除非 A, 才 B
除非 天气 好 ， 我们 才能 去 野餐。
We can go for a picnic if the weather is nice.
除非 你 在 ， 我 才 安心。
I’ll only feel safe if you’re there.
除非 你 亲口 告诉 我 ， 我 才 会 相信。
I’ll only believe it if you are the one who tells me.