un·​less | \ ən-ˈles How to pronounce unless (audio) , ˈən-ˌles \

Definition of unless

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : except on the condition that : under any other circumstance than
2 : without the accompanying circumstance or condition that : but that : but



Definition of unless (Entry 2 of 2)

: except possibly : except

Examples of unless in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Preposition What's not allowed: No visitors are permitted for COVID-19 patients unless there are extenuating circumstances. Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press, "Visitors can return to Michigan hospitals — but rules are different for each," 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, "Hong Kong Bans Tiananmen Vigil for First Time in Three Decades," 7 June 2020 The Plano department also bans any neck restraint unless lives are at risk. Cassandra Jaramillo, Dallas News, "Dallas Police Department announces new policies after seven days of protests," 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, "'Let it not be Miami': Pulling together as a pandemic rages beyond a small Arizona town," 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, "The truth about Chinese migrants in Africa and their self-segregation," 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, "The WIRED Coronavirus Glossary," 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, "University of Michigan President Takes Measured Approach on Reopening," 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, "Lockdown and out India’s economy has suffered even more than most," 23 May 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'unless.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of unless


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


circa 1532, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for unless


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

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Time Traveler for unless

Time Traveler

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

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Cite this Entry

“Unless.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unless. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of unless

used to say what will happen, be done, or be true if something else does not happen, is not done, or is not true


un·​less | \ ən-ˈles How to pronounce unless (audio) \

Kids Definition of unless

: except on the condition that You can't have dessert unless you finish your dinner.

More from Merriam-Webster on unless

Nglish: Translation of unless for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of unless for Arabic Speakers

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