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"Hasta que" vs. "Hasta que no"? What's the Difference?!

The Spanish adverbial phrases  hasta que and hasta que no are both useful to describe situations in which one action depends upon another, in other words, what will or won't be done or happen "until" something else happens. However, because the literal translations for phrases involving the latter construction don't make sense in English, the hasta que no construction can be confusing for English speakers. We hope this lesson will clarify this confusion.

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Hasta que 

The adverbial phrase hasta que means "until" and can be used with many different verb tenses. However, in the sentences we will be talking about today, the verb that follows hasta que refers to something that might happen in the future but has not yet happened and must thus be conjugated in a subjunctive tense. Let's take a look at several examples in the present subjunctive

 

y lo dejaremos ahí hasta que hierva.

and we'll leave it there until it boils.

Caption 19, Ana Carolina Ponche navideño

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y el jarabe se lo toma tres veces al día hasta que lo termine.

and you take the syrup three times a day until you finish it.

Caption 28, Cita médica La cita médica de Cleer - Part 2

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Note that these first two examples talk about what someone is going to do until something else happens. Now let's look at some examples of things one won't do until something else happens:

 

De momento no las saco fuera y las dejo que estén tranquilas, hasta que se sientan seguras 

For now, I don't take them out, and I leave them alone until they feel safe

Captions 9-10, Amaya Mis burras Lola y Canija

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¿Ya? Y no voy a descansar hasta que atrape a esa rata.

OK? And I'm not going to rest until I catch that rat.

Caption 30, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 1 - Part 10

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Hasta que no

Hasta que no functions in almost the exact same way as hasta que in such sentences. However, note that in contrast to hasta que, sentences with hasta que no always involve a double negative (i.e. what can't happen until something else does). Let's take a look:

 

pero de momento no puedo darle una respuesta hasta que no hayamos entrevistado al resto de candidatos.

but at the moment I can't give you an answer until we have interviewed the rest of the candidates.

Captions 61-62, Negocios La solicitud de empleo - Part 2

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Note that while the literal translation of "hasta que no hayamos entrevistado al resto de candidatos" would be "until we haven't interviewed the rest of the candidates," which wouldn't make sense, the actual meaning is "until we have interviewed the rest of the candidates." The word "no" is therefore an "expletive," which, in grammar, means an "empty word" that might add emphasis but doesn't add meaning. And interestingly, the form of this sentence with merely hasta que would work just as well with no difference in meaning, as follows:

 

pero de momento no puedo darle una respuesta hasta que hayamos entrevistado al resto de candidatos.

but at the moment I can't give you an answer until we have interviewed the rest of the candidates.

 

Let's see two more examples:

 

Pero vamos, eso nadie lo sabe hasta que no estemos en el terreno.

But come on, nobody knows that until we're in the area.

Caption 27, Los Reporteros Caza con Galgo - Part 2

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Sí. -...con él no podemos hacer nada... Ajá. -hasta que no desarrolle bien.

Yes. -...we can't do anything with him... Uh-huh. -until he develops well.

Captions 38-39, Animales en familia Un día en Bioparc: Coatís

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Once again, the literal translations "until we're not" and "until he doesn't develop" would be nonsensical, and hence the sentences have been translated in the same fashion as they would be if the word "no" weren't present since hasta que estemos/hasta que no estemos (until we're) and hasta que desarrolle/hasta que no desarrolle (until he develops) are synonymous. 

 

In conclusion, although there has been some debate among linguists about the legitimacy of hasta que no, which is more likely to be heard in Spain (to learn more such differences, check out this lesson on A Few Outstanding Differences Between Castilian and Latin American Spanish), the constructions hasta que and hasta que no have been deemed interchangeable when talking about what can't or won't happen until something else takes place. That said, we hope that this lesson has brought some clarity regarding the somewhat confusing hasta que no construction... and don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments

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