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I am new to Spanish and was wondering when I need to use 'pero' in a sentence vs 'sino'.

I have seen both these words used in sentences and I am confused on when to use which.

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Please add at least an example of a sentence showing your doubt ("pero" has a few possible meanings, one of them was "sino", but it is now obsolete – Dr. belisarius Jul 1 '13 at 21:29
Here you go.. These are examples used on my Spanish learning program. Él tiene una camisa pero no es roja. No son minutos, sino horas. – slayernoah Jul 1 '13 at 22:37
Ok. Let's play a game: "El no tiene una camisa, sino una remera" -> "El tiene una camisa, pero no una remera". – Dr. belisarius Jul 1 '13 at 22:44
@belisarius "Yo no se como responder a esta pregunta sino hacer juegos con ella." – Alfredo Osorio Jul 1 '13 at 22:59
@AlfredoOsorio Bueno, si no sabes como reponder, aquí va una ayuda :) – Dr. belisarius Jul 1 '13 at 23:07
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The confusion for English speakers can arise because "pero" and "sino" both translate to "but".

Él tiene una camisa, pero no es roja.
He has a shirt, but it's not red.

No he venido a ser servido, sino a servir.
I haven't come to be served, but to serve.

Some differences:

  • "Sino" follows a negative assertion, to provide instead the "right" (positive) alternative. ("Not that, but this" . "No aquello, sino esto"). "Pero" just joins two sentences that are sowewhat opposite.

  • "Sino" can often be translated as instead or rather (where these words function as "but").

  • "Sino" is a more connected conjuntion: the words that follow complete the sentence, it's syntactically related and it's contruction depends on the opening. By contrast, "Pero" opens a new independent clause. See the above examples. Quick rule: only before a "pero" we can replace the comma by a semicolon or a period ("Él tiene una camisa. Pero no es roja.").

More info

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So would "I haven't come to be served, but I have come to serve" use pero or sino? It doesn't fit your rule that the second clause is independent, but it fits the other rules. – Flimzy Jul 2 '13 at 23:12
I don't see it that way. The correct/natural form is "I haven't come to be served, but to serve". In any case, the second part, what follows the "but", mimics syntantically the first (just toggling the negative to a positive), it's not an independent construct. – leonbloy Jul 2 '13 at 23:59
I wonder if you didn't understand my question. Sometimes, for stylistic reasons or emphasis, for example, someone would repeat the entire phrase. I'm asking if sino would still be appropriate then? Another English example might be, "I don't like cats, but I do like dogs." Is sino still appropriate, or would pero be used, since there is an independent clause? – Flimzy Jul 3 '13 at 0:11
@Flimzy: If the clause is independent, "pero" is the correct one; "No me gustan los gatos; pero me gustan los perros". – leonbloy Jul 3 '13 at 0:19
Thanks for the explanation. This really helped me! – slayernoah Jul 3 '13 at 18:36

Sino is a conjunction, and is used exactly the same as pero, except that it is used in cases of negation. It can be thought to roughly translate to the English terms however or rather, but is more specific than the English terms.

To use sino, there must be a negative word (such as no) preceding the conjunction


  1. I don't want to go to the movies, rather/however/but I want to go home.

    No quiero ir al cine, sino quiero ir a mi casa.

  2. The dog is not brown, but/however/rather black.

    El perro no es marrón, sino negro.

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Thanks a lot for the explanation! – slayernoah Jul 3 '13 at 18:38
@slayernoah: No problem, and we're glad you're here! Welcome to Spanish.SE. – Flimzy Jul 3 '13 at 19:20

The word "pero" is used to expand or oppose a concept.
For example:
Puedes dormir tarde "pero" el otro dia tendrás sueño.
El puede venir "pero" debe traer algo.

In case of word "sino", is used to oppose a concept to another previous negative.
For Example:
No es que no quiera que venga "sino" que venga otro día.
No lo hizo ella "sino" que lo hizo el.

Well, I hope this help you.

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Thanks a lot for the explanation! – slayernoah Jul 3 '13 at 18:37

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