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Otherwise... / 不然的話...


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陳德聰

These are all variations of the same thing:

 

要不 (if not)

要不然 (if not so)

不然 (not so)

不然的話 (if not so)

要不然的話 (double if not so)

 

Bonus: 否則 (*implied if* not so, then)

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That's interesting. What got me asking this was that I also recently noticed in a couple of dictionaries the term 否則 which I never use in this way.

 

Do you use it much?

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陳德聰

That might be because 否則 is of a higher register than 不然的話. I use it when the situation calls for it, usually in the same context as a 除非.

 

I sometimes hear, to my amusement, 否則的話, which appears to be a habitual attempt to soften the harshness/absoluteness of 否則 by tacking on a 的話 which is more colloquial.

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EnergyReaper

否则 is a synonym for 不然。To me, 不然的话 often has a long pause like a sentence, e.g. 抢劫!把钱都拿出来。不然的话。(The robber stopped a while here and took out a gun to point at you)。小心你的脑袋开花!

And I think 否则 is more formal,and 否则 is often a translation for word "Otherwise", like this sentence example from cambridge dictionary:

I'd better write it down, otherwise I'll forget it. 我最好把它写下来,否则我会忘了的。

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要不, 不然的话 and 否则 are not totally the same. Consider the following examples:

1a) 你下午没空吗?要不(然),你让你室友代领一下。

1b) ? 你下午没空吗?不然的话,你让你室友代领一下。

1c) 你下午没空吗?不行的话,你让你室友代领一下。

1d) * 你下午没空吗?否则,你让你室友代领一下。

 

2a) * 你必须下午来领取,要不,名额就作废了。

2b) 你必须下午来领取,要不然,名额就作废了。

2c) 你必须下午来领取,不然的话,名额就作废了。

2d) 你必须下午来领取,否则,名额就作废了。

 

ps: though 否则的话 sounds natural, it's actually ungrammatical and very odd on a second thought. “的话” can be translated as "in the case of", so the full meaning of 不然的话 in fact is "in the case that it cannot be so". 否则, as paraphrased by 陳德聰, means "if not so(否), then(则)", therefore 的话(in the case that) can't be morphologically fused with 否则 unless 否则 has been semantically bleached (, which is the case in Mainland China), because 则(then) must be directly followed by a clause or sentence.

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陳德聰

Riffing on Messidor’s example, I would say that 要不 is more pragmatically like “if that’s the case,” when “the case” contains a negative like “沒”空, and my gut tells me that it has some kind of suggestion constraint, where it can’t be used with a declarative sentence following it.

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