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[uhn-les, uh n-] /ʌnˈlɛs, ən-/
except under the circumstances that:
I'll be there at nine, unless the train is late.
except; but; save:
Nothing will come of it, unless disaster.
Origin of unless
1400-50; late ME prepositional phrase on less (also o less(e), earlier upon less) on a lesser footing or condition (than); first used as a preposition and conjunction in the early 16th century; see on, less Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for unless
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Historical Examples
  • Not the sky, assuredly, and there was no place else possible, unless the door of the summer house.

    Jerry Junior Jean Webster
  • unless we are fortunate enough to find some, retreat is inevitable.

  • Another half-hour, and—unless help arrived—every passenger must swim for it.

  • unless you do as I bid you, I will keep you in irons for the rest of the voyage!

    Brave and Bold Horatio Alger
  • He had never been seen to spend a penny, unless it was to save twopence.

    The Cock-House at Fellsgarth Talbot Baines Reed
British Dictionary definitions for unless


(subordinating) except under the circumstances that; except on the condition that: they'll sell it unless he hears otherwise
(rare) except
Word Origin
C14: onlesse, from onon + lesseless; compare French à moins que, literally: at less than
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for unless

mid-15c., earlier onlesse, from on lesse (than) "on a less condition (than)," the first syllable originally on, but the negative connotation and the lack of stress changed it to un-.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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