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Conjunctions connect words, phrases, and clauses. But not all conjunctions function in the same way. This unit describes the types of English conjunctions and how they are used in sentences.

Coordinating conjunctions connect words or groups of words of the same grammatical type, such as verbs, nouns, and adjectives, or of the same grammatical structure, such as phrases and clauses. These are the coordinating conjunctions: and, but, or, yet, for, so, and nor.

If a coordinating conjunction connects more than two elements, it is generally placed between the last two elements of the series. The other elements are separated by commas.

  • In order to find the treasure, you will need a compass, a shovel, a map, and a lamp.
  • He wanted to buy a hat, a pair of gloves, or some new boots.

Coordinating conjunctions can also connect other elements, such as infinitives and infinitive phrases.

  • She wants to watch a movie or (to) listen to music.
  • It’s difficult to listen to him and to know that he is lying.

If a coordinating conjunction connects independent clauses, the conjunction is usually preceded by a comma. An independent clause is one that can stand by itself and make complete sense. If a coordinating conjunction connects independent clauses, it creates a compound sentence.

  • She spoke to him harshly, but there was real pity for him in her heart.
  • Tom was exhausted, yet he found enough strength to lead them out of the woods.

If the subject, verb, or auxiliary is the same in both clauses, the one in the second clause can be omitted. When this occurs, the comma can be omitted.

  • He spoke slowly but [he] pronounced each word in anger.
  • The men worked on the house and [worked] on the shed in the backyard.
  • Someone is knocking at the door and [is] calling your name.

But and yet indicate a contrast between the elements they connect.

  • His knee was hurting, but he finished the race anyway.
  • The grape juice was bitter yet hydrating.

Or indicates a choice or offers alternatives between the elements it connects.

  • On Sunday, we will go to the lake or to the river.
  • He wants a new bicycle or some roller skates for Christmas.

Nor typically connects negative statements. Note that if an independent clause follows nor, its subject and verb are inverted.

  • They did not fix my camera, nor did they fix my lens.
  • She did not tell us where she was traveling to, nor did she tell us how long she would be gone.

The conjunction for is generally synonymous with because. So has a meaning similar to therefore. For and so can also express a cause-and-effect relationship.

  • She could not think clearly, for her heart was so full of anger.
  • They could not find the car keys, so they broke the window to get in.

Correlative conjunctions follow the same set of rules coordinating conjunctions do. Both types of conjunctions function in the same way, except that correlative conjunctions are composed of two parts. The most common of these conjunctions are both . . . and . . . , not only . . . but also . . . , either . . . or . . . , and neither . . . nor . . . .

When two subjects are connected by not only . . . but also . . . , either . . . or . . . , or neither . . . nor . . . , the subject that is closer to the verb determines whether the verb is singular or plural. However, when two subjects are connected with both . . . and . . . , the verb is always plural.

  • Not only my sister but also my cousin is here.
  • Not only my sister but also my parents are here.
  • Either the cops or the robber was blamed for the victim’s death.
  • Either my sister or my parents were in attendance.
  • Neither my sister nor my cousin is here.
  • Neither my sister nor my parents are here.
  • Both my sister and my cousin are here.
  • Both the winter and the spring have been cold and damp.

These examples illustrate correlative conjunctions used with the subjects of the sentences. They can also be used to join objects in a sentence.

  • He teased both my sister and my cousin.
  • She bought not only a new blouse but also a new skirt.
  • I spoke to either your wife or your daughter.
  • We saw neither the crime nor the criminal.

Complete sentences are separated by a period, not a comma.

  • It was very cold. He put on a sweater.
  • We borrowed some money. We bought a used car.

However, you can use a comma before a coordinating conjunction to combine two sentences into a single sentence. If the subjects of the two sentences are identical, the subject of the second sentence can be omitted. In such a case, the comma is not used.

  • It was very cold, and he put on a sweater.
  • We borrowed money and bought a used car.

If the sentences are very short, the comma can be omitted.

  • The concert ended and he left.

Subordinating conjunctions connect dependent, or subordinate, clauses to independent clauses. An independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence. A dependent clause requires an independent clause to be correct or even to make sense. Furthermore, a dependent clause always begins with a subordinate conjunction.

Following is a list of the most common subordinating conjunctions.

althoughbeforenow thatuntil
aseven ifsincewhen
as ifeven thoughthanwhere
as thoughexceptthoughwhile
  • They will head home after they finish eating.
  • She enjoyed talking to him, because he was so smart.
  • Tom will not join the team unless he can be the captain.

Several subordinating conjunctions express time relationships: after, before, until, when, and while. These conjunctions indicate when the action of the dependent clause takes place in relation to the action of the independent clause.

  • He was a doctor before becoming a veterinarian.
  • Pedro waited in line while Vanessa looked for a place to sit.

The subordinating conjunction because introduces a clause that provides a reason for something. It answers the question “why.”

  • She loves the Doors, because they sing catchy songs.

The subordinating conjunctions (ever) since and now that express one of two things: an explanation or a time relationship.

  • They cannot go to Mexico, since they do not have enough money.
  • We have been eager to watch the movie ever since we saw the preview.
  • Now that they have enough money, they are going to Mexico.

Although, even though, and though express exception or indicate that a condition exists despite some other condition.

  • She liked her old apartment, although it was small and smelly.
  • I was good at volleyball, even though I was short.
  • I hated his choice of music, though his voice was quite good.

When it follows a negative statement, the conjunction unless expresses requirements or conditions.

  • She can’t be part of the band unless she sings well.

The dependent if clause expresses a condition that must be met, and the independent clause describes what will happen when that condition is met.

  • He can be part of the band if he plays guitar or drums.

No punctuation is required before many subordinating conjunctions, especially those that express a time relationship, if the conjunction follows the independent clause.

  • Before he became a professional surfer, he was a skater.
  • He was a skater before he became a professional surfer.

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

The conjunction than may be used as a subordinating conjunction, often introducing an elliptical clause, that is, a clause in which information that is understood is omitted.

  • You speak English far better than I [do].
  • I like apple pie better than [I like] chocolate cake.

Colloquially, it is quite common to use than as a preposition.

  • Cathy is more talented than him.
  • My brother plays the piano better than me.

To be more precise, the verb in the dependent clause may be included, which requires than to be treated as a conjunction.

  • Cathy is more talented than he is.
  • My brother plays the piano better than I do.

Conjunctive adverbs are also considered conjunctions, because they can be used to connect independent clauses. They also act as adverbs, because they modify one of the independent clauses.

Following is a list of the most commonly used conjunctive adverbs.

afterwardsfor exampleneverthelesstherefore
anywayfor instancenextthus
  • The car engine broke down; consequently, we did not finish the race.
  • I spent the day at the public library; later, I went for a walk to relax.
  • The thief lost his appeal; therefore, he was forced to go to prison.
  • She had a lot of bills this month; unfortunately, that means that she can’t go on the trip with us.

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