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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:
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.
Gray Area: 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.