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Collins translates "unless" as 除非, and Cambridge English-Chinese Dictionary synonymizes "unless" to "except if" before translating it. I'll focus on the Cambridge's translation here.

except if
非;除了在…的情況下

  1. Which Chinese character matches "except"? I'm surmising 除?

  2. Which Chinese character matches "if"? By process of elimination, I'm surmising 非?

  3. But 除非 feels deficient. Neither 除 nor 非 means "if". So what begets the meaning of "if" in 除非?

0

Because we always use "除非" after a negative sentence, and "非" means "no" or "not". "除非" eliminate the negative state by a condition behind.

If you try to translate Chinese character by character, you will usually feel strange. So, just memorize it. :)

| improve this answer | |
  • Quote:- "If you try to translate Chinese character by character, you will usually feel strange" Worse if you deconstruct the characters into its constituent parts because a character is greater than the sum of its parts. Also the characters were formed or constructed centuries ago, at a time when the socio-cultural thoughts and metaphysical imaginings of the ancient Chinese bear no resemblance to modern day thoughts and reasoning. This is not to say of course that there is no value in studying their etymology; just that there is a limit to its usefulness as a learning tool of the language. – Wayne Cheah Sep 6 at 12:25

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