Conjunctions in Grammar

Conjunctions are words that connect (or “conjoin”) other words, phrases, or clauses. In this article, we shall cover the four main types of conjunctions.

  • Coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or)
  • Correlative conjunctions (either . . . or, not only . . . but also)
  • Subordinating conjunctions (because, although, while)
  • Conjunctive adverbs (for example, nevertheless)

Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions connect words or groups of words of the same grammatical type, such as nouns, verbs, or adjectives, or of the same grammatical structure, such as phrases or clauses.Common coordinating conjunctions include the following:

And, but, or, nor, for, so, yet.

Notice that the word for, here listed as a conjunction, can also be used as a preposition. The word’s function within the sentence, not the word itself, determines whether it is a preposition or a conjunction.

The following sentences give two examples of the use of coordinating conjunctions. The first sentence connects nouns, and the second connects verb phrases.

  • The chef prepared chicken and pasta for dinner.
  • You can go with us or stay home.

But and yet show a contrast between the items they connect. But can also mean “except” or “notwithstanding.”

  • The project was challenging, but we finished it on time.
  • The orange juice was tart yet refreshing.

Or shows a choice or offers alternatives between the items it connects.

  • He wants a tennis racket or a video game for his birthday.
  • On my day off, I will go to the beach or the mountains.

When a coordinating conjunction connects more than two items, the conjunction usually

appears between the last two items in the series. Commas separate the items in the series.

  • Correct: For this craft project, you will need scissors, glue, green felt, and silk flowers.
  • Incorrect: You will need scissors and glue and green felt and silk flowers.

However, conjunctions may be included for emphasis.

  • I cannot believe you ate a whole steak and an enormous potato and a chicken leg and a salad and a big slice of cheesecake!

For, so, and nor usually connect independent clauses. For and so show a cause/effect relationship or explain why something is so.

  • I could not find your house, so I called to ask for directions.
  • She could not speak, for her heart was filled with grief.

Nor usually connects negative statements. An independent clause following nor always has its subject and verb inverted, as if it were a question.

  • He would not say why he was leaving, nor would he say where he was going.
  • They did not repair my car, nor did they give me a refund.

Nor can also appear as part of the correlative conjunction neither . . . nor, in which it can connect nouns, verbs, or other grammatical units.

When a coordinating conjunction connects independent clauses, the conjunction is usually preceded by a comma, unless both clauses are very short.

Independent clauses joined by coordinating conjunctions create compound sentences

Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions function like coordinating conjunctions, but they have two parts.

  • Either . . . or
  • Not only . . . but (or “but also”)
  • Neither . . . nor
  • Both . . . and
  • Whether . . . or
  • As . . . as

Here are some examples of sentences that have correlative conjunctions.

  • Both the police and the FBI were investigating the crime.
  • Either he goes, or I do.
  • Neither Miriam nor Josh will agree to write the script.
  • The rescue workers brought not only food but blankets.

Subordinating Conjunctions in Grammar

Subordinating conjunctions connect subordinate clauses to independent clauses. An independent clause has both a subject and a verb, and it can stand alone as a complete thought. A subordinate clause has a subject and a verb, but it depends on the independent clause for its meaning.

Note that the subordinate clause always includes the subordinating conjunction.

  • [I went to the gym] [even though I was already tired.]

[independent clause] [subordinating conjunction + subordinate clause]

Some common subordinating conjunctions include:

After, although, as, as if, as though, because, before, even, even if, even though, except, if, since, than, though, unless, until, when, where, while.

Some examples of sentences using subordinating conjunctions are:

  • We will go to Ethan’s house after we finish practice.
  • I enjoyed talking to him because he has such a good sense of humor.
  • Deanna will not join the band unless she can be the lead singer.

Many subordinating conjunctions express relationships having to do with time (such as before, after, while, when, and until). These words also function as adverbs, but when they link independent and subordinate clauses, they become subordinating conjunctions. They tell when the action in the independent clause occurred in relation to the action in the subordinate clause.

  • He used to be a mechanic before he became a teacher. (When was he a mechanic? Before he became a teacher)
  • Marcia waited in the lobby while Evan talked to the desk clerk. (When did Marcia wait in the lobby? While Even talked to the desk clerk.)

The subordinating conjunction because explains why something happens.

  • I love this club because they play the newest music. (Why do I love this club? Because they play the newest music.)

Since can express either an explanation (synonymous with because) or a time relationship (sometimes used with ever).

  • We cannot buy lunch since we do not have any money. (This is an explanation; it tells why we cannot buy lunch.)
  • He has been afraid to go diving ever since he was bitten by a shark. (This is a time relationship; it tells when his fear began.)

Subordinating conjunctions such as although, except, even though, and though express exceptions (cases where some usual rule does not apply) or indicate a condition that exists despite some other condition.

  • She was an excellent basketball player even though she was not very tall. (This expresses an exception: Most basketball players are tall.)
  • I loved my apartment although it was small and cramped. (Despite its smallness, I still loved my apartment.)

A subordinate clause introduced by if expresses a condition that must be met, and the independent clause describes what will happen when that condition is met. Unless can also express conditions or requirements.

  • You can play on the team if you come to practice regularly.
  • You cannot play on the team unless you come to practice regularly.

No punctuation is needed before a subordinating conjunction. Notice, however, that if the order

of the clauses is reversed, a comma is always required after the subordinate clause.

  • [Subordinating conjunction + subordinate clause], [independent clause]
  • Before he became a teacher, he used to be a mechanic.
  • While Evan talked to the desk clerk, Marcia waited in the lobby.

The relative pronouns that, which, who, whom, and whose also function much like subordinating conjunctions because they introduce subordinate clauses.

Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctive adverbs act as conjunctions because they connect independent clauses. They act as adverbs because they also modify one of the independent clauses.

  • We spent the afternoon in the park; later, we went for a bicycle ride by the lake.
  • The kiln was broken; consequently, we could not finish our ceramics project.

Some common conjunctive adverbs include the following:

Afterwards, anyway, besides, consequently, eventually, finally, for example, for instance, however, instead, later, likewise, nevertheless, next, now, otherwise, still, then, therefore, thus, unfortunately.

Conjunctive adverbs only connect independent clauses; that is, clauses that can stand on their own as complete thoughts. Conjunctive adverbs are usually preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma.

  • I would like to buy a new car; however, I will settle for a used one.
  • You need to study more; otherwise, you will flunk calculus.

If the two independent clauses are very short and closely related, it is also acceptable to use a comma rather than a semicolon before the conjunctive adverb, and no comma after it.

The same idea expressed by a conjunctive adverb can often be expressed by a coordinating conjunction

  • I would like to buy a new car, but I will settle for a used one.

The choice between conjunctive adverbs and coordinating conjunctions is purely a matter of style and personal preference. Conjunctive adverbs tend to sound more formal than coordinating conjunctions.

  • I could not find your house; therefore, I called to ask for directions.
  • I could not find your house, so I called to ask for directions.

Independent clauses joined by conjunctive adverbs can also be separated into complete sentences by placing a period after the first independent clause.

  • I could not find your house. Therefore, I called to ask for directions.

Using “Than” with Personal Pronoun

Some grammarians insist that the word than can only be used as a subordinating conjunction. Therefore, they argue, when than is followed by a personal pronoun, the pronoun must be in the nominative case because it is the subject of the subordinate clause. For example:

  • Tom is much taller than I.(It is assumed that the rest of the subordinate clause has been omitted: “Tom is much taller than I am tall.”)

Others insist that in this situation, than is being used as a preposition. Therefore, pronouns following it should be in the objective case.

  • Tom is much taller than me.

One way to avoid the problem in your writing is to always include the “assumed” verb in the

subordinate clause:

  • Preferable: She is more qualified for the position than he is.
  • Not: She is more qualified for the position than him.
  • Not: She is more qualified for the position than he.

“As” versus “Like”

Some grammarians insist that like can only be used as a preposition, not a conjunction, so it should only introduce nouns or pronouns. These grammarians recommend the use of the conjunctions as, as if, or as though to introduce clauses.

  • preposition [noun]
  • She sings like [a bird].
  • Her perfume smelled like [roses].
  • subordinating conjunction [subordinate clause]
  • I felt as if [I would die of happiness].
  • The sky looked as if [it would soon rain].

However, just as with than, there are many examples of like being used both as a preposition and as a conjunction. Many writers and speakers would see no difference between “I felt like I wanted to cry” and “I felt as if I wanted to cry,” except that the second example is more formal sounding.

“Than” versus “Then”

Writers often confuse the words than and then because they sound alike when spoken. Remember that than is used to make comparisons and then is used to indicate a point in time.

  • Incorrect: You reacted more calmly then I would have.
  • Correct: You reacted more calmly than I would have.
  • Incorrect: They changed clothes and than they went swimming.
  • Correct: They changed clothes and then they went swimming.

Beginning a Sentence with “And”

Nothing is grammatically wrong with placing and or other coordinating conjunctions at the beginning of a complete sentence, although this practice should be used sparingly. Novice writers should be especially careful not to begin sentence fragments with conjunctions.

  • Incorrect: We hung the wallpaper and painted the walls. And laid new tile.
  • Correct: We hung the wallpaper and painted the walls. And we laid new tile.
  • Correct: We hung the wallpaper, painted the walls, and laid new tile.

Although the second sentence is technically correct, the third sentence is preferable, because it is less wordy and flows more smoothly.

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