Unsaturated soil behaviour, such as volume change, shear strength and yield stress, is usually interpreted and modelled in terms of stress and suction. This approach is consistent with laboratory tests where suction is a controllable variable. However, it also suffers some limitations. This paper (Parts I and II) presents an alternative approach for interpreting unsaturated soil behaviour, which is built in the space of stress versus degree of saturation. In Part I, a new volume change equation is proposed in terms of stress and degree of saturation, to give a better explanation to the non-linear change of soil compressibility under constant suctions. The soil compression index is assumed to be a function of the effective degree of saturation and is interpolated from the known compressibility at the fully saturated state and that at a dry state. An alternative approach to simulate hydraulic hysteresis and hydro-mechanical interaction is then introduced, which enables the calculation of the effective degree of saturation under complex stress and suction paths. The proposed volume change equation and the approach to describe saturation variation, which are two fundamental aspects to establish constitutive laws for unsaturated soils, are validated against a variety of experimental data in literature.