I will not finish my work in time because you do not help me.

Can I rewrite the sentence by using 'unless' as the following?

Unless you help me, I will not finish my work in time.

Is it true that 'unless' is not used when the meaning is more like 'because ... not'?

  • It should be "on time." "Unless you help me, I will not be able to finish my work on time." Incidentally, you're first sentence sends a little weird to me. Or rather, it's quite direct and almost rude, depending on your relationship with the person. And I didn't understand your question. I think you put in an extra "not." – Teacher KSHuang Jan 9 '17 at 7:47
  • @TeacherKSHuang "In time" is perfectly acceptable. "I don't want to miss the train. I hope i make it to the station in time." – verbose Jan 9 '17 at 8:25
  • @verbose Not when it's about a deadline. – Teacher KSHuang Jan 9 '17 at 8:32
  • There's no indication in the OP's question that the example sentences refer to a deadline. "I want to take the 6pm train. To catch that train, I need to finish my work and leave for the station by 5:30. However, I will not finish my work in time because you don't help me." – verbose Jan 9 '17 at 8:42
  • @theinlewin That rule (or whatever they call it) probably originates from Practical English Usage by Michael Swan. One of his examples is good, *I'll be surprised unless the car breaks down soon. We wouldn't use unless like this. But it looks like the rule is a bit overgeneralized. And this is more about semantics than syntax. FWIW, I like Araucaria's explanation here: My wife will be angry, unless I'm home by 7.00. – Damkerng T. Jan 9 '17 at 9:53

Your understanding is correct. "Unless" cannot be used to replace "because ... not". It is logically equivalent to "if ... not". Your second statement means:

If you do not help me, I will not finish my work in time.

In other words, "unless" refers to conditional or hypothetical situations, not actual ones. When you're stating an actual fact—the reason X happens is that Y doesn't happen—you cannot use "unless".

The Education First site has a fuller list of examples showing how "unless" is the equivalent of "if ... not". Off the top of my head, I can't think of any equivalent one-word replacement for "because ... not".

  • Oh, heh, duh, after reading your response, I understand the original question. – Teacher KSHuang Jan 9 '17 at 8:37
  1. I will not finish my work in time [because you do not help me].

  2. [Unless you help me], I will not finish my work in time.

The underlying meaning of both examples is similar: in order to finish my work on time, I will need your help. But the grammar is different.

In 1. the bracketed element is a reason adjunct. It gives the reason that you will not finish your work in time.

In 2. The bracketed element is a conditional adjunct. “Unless” means “except if”. The adjunct could be replaced with if you don’t help me with no change of meaning.

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