How to say “unless” in Italian
Before we go into detail, have a look at this sentence:
- I won’t call you unless there are any problems.
This sentence basically means:
- I will call you only if there are any problems.
Today, we’re going to focus on how to say “unless” in Italian in this specific context.
“Unless” is a conjunction that means “except if” or “except on the condition that“.
In Italian, we say a meno che and it has the same meaning of “unless”.
Let’s find out how to use “a meno che” in Italian.
“A meno che” or “a meno che non”?
Have a look at the sentence below:
Non lo farò, a meno che non mi preghi.
I won’t do it unless you beg me.
You might have noticed the word non after a meno che, which might sound and look confusing since in English we don’t say “I won’t do it unless you don’t beg me”.
That non is called non pleonastico.
Ok, you might be even more confused now, but don’t worry. We’ll explain this.
In order to understand what we mean, have a look at this sentence:
- I heard it with my own ears.
In this case, “with my own ears” is kind of unnecessary, right? However, we sometimes like to say unnecessary things to reinforce an idea and this is why we say it.
In other words, “with my own ears” is pleonastic.
Pleonastico (pleonastic) means redundant, superfluous, unnecessary, or needlessly wordy.
So, the non in the sentence we saw above is redundant and somehow unnecessary.
You might be wondering why we use it then. Well, it just sounds better for us, Italians. It’s a matter of style.
It sounds more spontaneous and natural to say, “Non lo farò, a meno che non mi preghi” instead of “Non lo farò, a meno che mi preghi.”
However, both structures (a meno che and a meno che non) are accepted.
We just recommend using the “unnecessary” non after a meno che. But don’t try to find a logic or try to translate it literally because it just won’t make sense.
Think this way: a meno che non means “unless”. That’s it.
“A meno che (non)” + subjunctive
The subjunctive expresses hypothetical situations and when we say a sentence with a meno che (non) we mention a condition, which is hypothetical.
This is why a meno che (non) triggers the subjunctive.
Note that you could use any of the four subjunctive tenses, depending on what you want to say.
These are the fours subjunctive tenses you can use:
Congiuntivo presente (present subjunctive)
We use the congiuntivo presente to talk about present or future events:
Andremo al mare domani, a meno che non piova.
We’ll go to the beach tomorrow unless it rains.
Congiuntivo passato (past subjunctive)
We use this subjunctive to talk about past events that happened at a specific time:
Non puoi uscire a meno che tu non abbia fatto i compiti.
You can’t go out unless you finished your homework.
Congiuntivo imperfetto (imperfect subjunctive)
We use the congiuntivo imperfetto to talk about events in the past that happened over a prolonged period of time:
Lui veniva sempre da me a meno che non lavorasse.
He would always come to mine unless he was working.
Congiuntivo trapassato (past perfect subjunctive)
We use this tense to refer to an event that happened BEFORE the hypothetical event in the main clause which also happened in the past:
Non sarei mai venuto alla festa, a meno che tu non mi avessi invitato.
I wouldn’t have come to the party unless you had invited me.
Examples with “a meno che non”
Let’s now have a look at some more examples with a meno che non:
A meno che non sia gratuito, non ci andrò.
I won’t go unless it’s free.
Dovrò rinunciare all’acquisto, a meno che non mi faccia un prezzo speciale.
I will have to give up the purchase unless you give me a special price.
Verrò da te a meno che non debba lavorare.
I’ll come to yours unless you have to work.
Questo è impossibile, a meno che non offriamo compensazioni adeguate.
This is not possible unless we offer appropriate compensation.
Non parlo con te a meno che tu non mi chieda scusa.
I’m not going to talk to you unless you apologize.
A quest’ora sarà sicuramente a casa, a meno che non sia rimasto bloccato dal traffico.
He is certainly home by now unless he got stuck in traffic.
Puoi usare la sua macchina a meno che non l’abbia venduta.
You can use his car unless he sold it.
Le chiavi dovrebbero essere lì a meno che qualcuno non le abbia portate via.
The keys should be there unless someone took them away.
As you can see, even though the non is pleonastic and unnecessary we do like to use it.
Still translating in your head? Wanna speak Italian for real? Check out Stefano's courses to think directly in Italian and become fluent fast!