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Session 1


Learn about unless in 90 seconds with Dan, who's running a bit late.

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    Activity 1

Activity 1

BBC English Class


You are probably familair with using 'if' in conditional sentences. 'Unless' is a conjunction that can also be used with a conditional meaning, but there are rules we follow when we use it. Find out what they are in only 90 seconds with Dan, a teacher who's running a little late.

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Hi, my name’s Dan, for BBC Learning English.

Today I’m going to talk about the word ‘unless’ in 90 seconds, I hope. Are you ready? Wish me luck!

Now as you may have seen I’m running a little bit late for my next class. I need to get there in 25 minutes but I don’t know how to do it on time.

I’ve got three options. Normally I’d take my bike which would take me 45 minutes, but that’s not an option today because of this.

So I could take the bus which takes 25 minutes, but I’m going to have to wait for the next one to arrive and who knows when that’s going to be.

Finally I could take the underground, which would get me there in 15 minutes, but it’s a little bit expensive, because I’m a teacher.

So, what should I do? Well, if I take my bike, or the bus, then I’ll be late. But, if I take the train, I won’t be late. Unless I take the train, I will be late.

Unless here means ‘if not’ or ‘except if’. I.e. in all other circumstances I won’t get the result I want, and that’s no good. 

It’s really important to remember that unless is always followed by a positive verb: unless I go, unless I see, unless he sees. We can never follow unless with a negative because English doesn’t like double negatives. So ‘unless I don’t go’ is not possible – ‘if I don’t go’.

Also, don’t forget about questions. Unless cannot be used with a question. ‘Unless do you go to the party’ can’t be done.

Now, do you know what? I think I’ve done it. My goodness. That’s fantastic! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to my next class. Unless you’ve understood everything I’ve said, please check out more information on our website bbclearningenglish.com.

I’ve been Daniel, you’ve been fantastic. I've got to go. Excuse me. Goodness, there’s never enough time. Oh dear.


Unless has a negative meaning similar to 'if .. not'. When using it, remember:

  • follow 'unless' with a positive verb
  • avoid using a negative in the 'unless clause'
  • don't make questions with 'unless'

To do

Now it's time to test yourself on the use of 'unless'. Can you choose the correct sentences?


5 Questions

Choose the option with 'unless' which best fits the situation in each question.

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End of Session 1

Well done. That's the end of this session. 

In the next session it's time to look at the language you need to talk about the news in News Review.

Session Grammar

  • Unless 

    has a negative meaning similar to 'if .. not'. When using it, remember:

    • follow 'unless' with a positive verb
    • avoid using a negative in the 'unless clause'
    • don't make questions with 'unless'

Session Vocabulary