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除非 - "unless" / "only if"? I recently encountered this sentence in a show: 除非佢肯同我成親。 (Standard Chinese, from the subtitles: 除非他肯跟我成親。) I'm used to translating 除非 as "unless," but in the context of the show, I believe the sentence means "[I will do it] *only if* he is willing to marry me." Dictionaries tell me that 除非 can mean both “unless” and “only if.” I'm confused about this, because in English, these two meanings are opposites of each other. "Unless" basically means "only if NOT." “...only if he’s willing to marry me.” = only if he WILL marry me. “...unless he’s willing to marry me.” = only if he WILL NOT marry me. My question is, if I see a sentence with 除非, how can I know whether it means "only if" or "unless"? Do I just need to guess the meaning from the context?
Oct 7, 2019 9:19 AM
Answers · 8
Thank you, Freda Lee. :) That's very helpful. It makes sense that (沒有方法) may be understood from the context, so the speaker may not need to say it.
October 21, 2019
Person A says, "You have a way to save him?" and Person B replies, 除非他肯跟我成親. The meaning here is “THE ONLY WAY to same him is that he is willing to marry me”, or in Chinese it means “(沒有方法),除非他願意和我成親” it just skips the phase (沒有方法) and it emphases it is the only way of doing so.
October 20, 2019
Yes, understood. I didn't transcribe the whole dialogue (since I figured that would entail explaining a lot of convoluted plot details), but maybe I'll try posting the question again with better context next time. Thanks again!
October 10, 2019
I would have to see the whole text.
October 10, 2019
Thanks again for your help. Your answer is what I would have expected, but the thing is, the dialogue in the show I was watching was more like option #1 (the one that doesn't make sense). Person A says, "You have a way to save him?" and Person B replies, 除非他肯跟我成親. That's why I was confused, because just as you say, it seems like "unless" doesn't fit here -- she clearly means that she's blackmailing him into marrying her. So it seems like she actually means the opposite of "unless," in this case.
October 10, 2019
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Language Skills
Chinese (Cantonese), English
Learning Language
Chinese (Cantonese)