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un·​less ən-ˈles How to pronounce unless (audio)
: except on the condition that : under any other circumstance than
: without the accompanying circumstance or condition that : but that : but


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: except possibly : except

Examples of unless in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
What's not allowed: No visitors are permitted for COVID-19 patients unless there are extenuating circumstances. Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press, 9 June 2020 June 4 also coincides with the final day that the Hong Kong government is enforcing social-distancing rules -- unless there are any extensions -- that bar gatherings of more than eight people. Natalie Lung, Bloomberg.com, 7 June 2020 The Plano department also bans any neck restraint unless lives are at risk. Cassandra Jaramillo, Dallas News, 5 June 2020 With schools and the senior center closed because of the virus, children and older people who normally ate at those places would have to go without unless town officials did something. AZCentral.com, 5 June 2020 But unless brought up on a farm, few white people speak an African language, while most young Indians speak only English or are bilingual in English and Afrikaans. Yan Hairong, Quartz Africa, 4 June 2020 Shelter-In-Place / Stay-At-Home** An order instituted by state and local officials requiring people to stay isolated and inside their homes unless their travel is essential, so as to avoid spreading the virus. Boone Ashworth, Wired, 2 June 2020 The University of Michigan won’t have a football season this fall unless all students are able to be back on campus for classes. Melissa Korn and Laine Higgins, WSJ, 24 May 2020 The National Council of Applied Economic Research, a think-tank in Delhi, predicts a contraction of 12.5% this fiscal year unless there is a huge stimulus. The Economist, 23 May 2020 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'unless.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English unlesse, alteration of onlesse, from on + lesse less

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


circa 1532, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of unless was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near unless

Cite this Entry

“Unless.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unless. Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


 in some contexts  ᵊn-,
 or  ᵊŋ-
: except on the condition that : if not
she will fail unless she works harder

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