Conjunctions. Yeah, the notorious ones. Not everybody likes them, but they are extremely helpful cohesive devices in any language.
Albert Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
Without conjunctions, the flow of our ideas would be just as disorganized as a writer’s workspace – someone who is a disciple of chaos theory.
So, today, we’ll try to make sense of how conjunctions play out in the English language.
Let’s get right into it.
What are conjunctions?
Conjunctions are used to connect words, phrases, and clauses for cohesion reasons. The three major classifications of conjunctions include the coordinating type or the FANBOYS, the subordinating type such as “although” and “if,” and the correlative type or those that work in pairs.
Conjunctions: An overview
In making use of language in both spoken and written contexts, we need to logically link our ideas together to make them more meaningful.
Language scholars have relentlessly worked hard through the years to make languages more accessible to us. They’ve done so by doing a meticulous series of research.
The technical term for sentence construction, as well as word order, is “syntax.” If this term is foreign to you, reading our beginner’s guide to syntax would be helpful.
Meanwhile, meaning or sense-making is explained more deeply in the branches of “semantics” and “pragmatics.”
Sentence construction and meaning-making are two crucial elements that guide how and why we use language, no matter what kind of language it is.
In making language more logically connected, we make use of idea connectors called conjunctions.
Conjunctions are referred to as “function” words rather than “content” words in language studies.
When we say content words, these words bear meaning. These types of words include nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. They are also called “open class” words.
Meanwhile, function words are those that do not necessarily bear meaning. They are rather used to tie or link the other words within and beyond our sentences.
Prepositions, determiners, qualifiers, quantifiers, pronouns, and conjunctions are some constituents that fall under the function word category.
In simpler terms, function words like conjunctions in particular work like bolts and screws in sentence construction.
Without conjunctions, logical and cohesive transitions between, within, and among our sentences may not be possible.
Conjunctions are classified into three major types. These conjunctions coordinate, subordinate, or correlate our whimsical ideas together.
To make sense of each of these three types, let us discuss their nuances one at a time together with some example sentences for contextualization.
Three major types of conjunctions: Coordinating, Subordinating, and Correlative
According to traditional grammar studies, conjunctions are one of the eight major parts of speech in English.
The other seven include nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and interjections.
Conjunctions are one of the hardest to learn and use among the eight parts of speech because they do not necessarily have meaning.
They are rather used to connect or link words, phrases, and clauses together to make cohesive transitions happen.
As has been stated above, there are three major types of conjunctions that we still refer to in modern times.
Conjunctions that are used to coordinate our independent ideas are called coordinating conjunctions or the FANBOYS.
Whereas, those that link independent or ordinate clauses to subordinate clauses are called subordinating conjunctions.
Thirdly, those conjunctions that work in pairs to harmonize ideas of equal grammatical weight are called correlative conjunctions.
Also known through the mnemonic device “FANBOYS,” coordinating conjunctions do their job by linking at least two independent clauses.
When this happens, a major sentence type called “compound sentence” is made. Compound sentences are perhaps the second easiest to make after simple sentences.
To really make sense of how conjunctions link our ideas on a sentence level, learning the difference between clauses and phrases should come in handy.
If you already know this difference, it should be quite easy to know as well that an independent clause is something that works like a simple sentence.
Having the ability to stand on their own, at least two independent clauses are what we need to make use of coordinating conjunctions.
Coordinating conjunctions are widely known as the “FANBOYS”. Mind you, they are not those kids who are attracted to superhero comics.
FANBOYS stands for the conjunctions “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.” As you can see, the initials are used for convenience purposes only.
In terms of punctuation usage, the way we use commas with FANBOYS is somehow fixed, which makes it quite easy to remember.
The rule of thumb is to place a mandatory comma before these coordinating conjunctions whenever they are used to create compound sentences.
The coordinating conjunction “for”
The coordinating conjunction “for” suggests the meaning “because” or “since.” It is used to connect the reason or cause of an event.
People sometimes get confused about this word and think that “for” is an adverb when, in fact, it isn’t.
This is because “for” is meanwhile used to introduce adverbial phrases of purpose, such as “for the wedding” and “for the economy.”
When this happens, “for” is actually used as a preposition in an adverbial phrase of purpose – not an adverb.
When used as a conjunction, a mandatory comma should come before “for” to set it apart from its prepositional usage.
This is also done to mark the independence of each of the two clauses in the sentence.
As a coordinating conjunction, here’s how to use “for”:
The coordinating conjunction “and”
“And” is used to add a word, a phrase, or a clause in a sentence. As one of the easiest coordinating conjunctions to use, you could never go wrong with “and.”
A comma before “and” is necessary when we are attaching an independent clause in a compound sentence.
However, placing a comma before “and” in a list is optional. This is dependent on your style and preference.
What needs to be considered at the end of the day, though, is readability. So, when the sentence gets confusing without the comma, then the default equation is to use one.
Here’s how to use the conjunction “and” to coordinate two independent clauses:
The coordinating conjunction “nor”
The simplest possible way to remember how to use “nor” is to think that it simply means “not or.”
This means that whatever you are trying to say gets negated or invalidated upon using this conjunction.
Likewise, a comma before “nor” is also necessarily used whenever it links an independent or ordinate clause to another.
Here’s an example:
The coordinating conjunction “but”
As you may already know, “but” is used for contrasts. Contrasting your idea with “but” means you are simply opposing what you said first.
Probably the easiest to use among all contrastive conjunctions, “but” is so much more prevalent than its synonyms, such as “however” and “nevertheless.”
Of course, you should never forget to place a comma before “but” when you’re using it to link an independent clause in a compound sentence.
The coordinating conjunction “or”
When conveying options, we make use of the conjunction “or.” Using “or” simply means suggesting alternatives to whatever idea we want to say or write.
Using a comma before or after “or” could be tricky for some. This is because grammar purists may disapprove of using “or” at the beginning of the sentence.
However, the comma usage right before “or” in a compound sentence is more of a fixed grammatical rule.
So, never hesitate to use a comma when “or” is used to link two independent clauses, just like in the next example:
The coordinating conjunction “yet”
“Yet” suggests the meaning “but still.” When compared to the conjunction “but,” “yet” conveys more emphasis or strength.
However, we also have to take note that “yet” may also be used as an adverb that suggests the meaning “so far.”
When this happens, there is no need to use a pre-comma unless it introduces a parenthetical or interruptive thought somewhere within the sentence.
When used as a conjunction, we clearly need a comma before “yet” and not after it, which is self-explanatory.
We may only need a comma after “yet” if it is used as the last word in a frontal-position independent clause in a compound sentence.
Here’s how we can use “yet” as a coordinating conjunction:
The coordinating conjunction “so”
“So” is used for showing results or consequences of events and actions. This conjunction suggests the meaning “therefore” or “that’s why.”
Appropriately using a comma before or after “so” could be a bit challenging at times. This is, again, due to some clash between proper grammar and style.
When using “so” as a coordinating conjunction, we have to remember that it must be replaceable with either “therefore” or “that’s why.”
If the sentence does not work after this process, then we are making use of “so” in the sense of “so that,” which is a subordinating conjunction.
Here’s how we can use “so” to coordinate two independent clauses:
If coordinating conjunctions can only connect independent clauses, subordinating conjunctions can link independent clauses to dependent clauses.
And while coordinating conjunctions are used to create compound sentences, subordinating conjunctions are meanwhile used to make complex sentences.
Subordinating conjunctions may further be classified according to function. These functions include concessions, reasons, conditions, purposes, comparisons, and conveying time.
Let us get to know each of these functions one by one.
The subordinating conjunction “although”
In grammar, subordinating conjunctions for concessions are used for negotiating with what has been said beforehand.
It’s like either validating or invalidating whatever idea that has been expressed earlier.
While there are several examples under this function such as “even though,” “despite the fact that,” and “lest” to name a few, “although” seems to be the most common.
“Although” suggests the meaning “in spite of what has been said or expressed.” This subordinating conjunction is useful for conveying something unexpected.
While coordinating conjunctions come with necessary commas, no comma should come before or after “although” in a regular complex sentence structure.
But, remember that the sentence structure of complex sentences can be reversed to change the emphasis.
When this happens, a comma is needed right after the last word of the frontal dependent clause.
The subordinating conjunction “because”
As you may already know, “because” is used for expressing the reason or cause behind an event or behavior.
“Because” suggests the causative meaning of “since,” which is in fact a subordinating type of conjunction as well.
Like “although” and most other subordinating conjunctions, no comma should come before “because” when it appears midsentence.
When the sentence structure is reversed, a comma should be used after the dependent clause.
The subordinating conjunction “if”
At times, we also need to convey conditional statements. Conditions are a form of speculation or guesswork that is used to show possibilities.
Among the many subordinating conjunctions for conditions, just like “unless” and “as long as,” “if” appears to be the most widely used.
In writing, a comma before “if” is mostly unnecessary – not unless it introduces a parenthetical or interruptive expression somewhere in the middle of the sentence.
We may also reverse the sentence this way:
The subordinating conjunction “so that”
As mentioned much earlier, “so that” is a subordinating conjunction. This one is great for expressing the purpose of an action or event.
Unlike the coordinating conjunction “so,” “so that” does not need a comma because it is a subordinating conjunction.
Other than “so that,” “in order to” and “in order that” are also subordinating conjunctions used to express purposes.
Here’s how we make use of “so that” in a complex sentence structure:
In casual language use, remember that the word “that” is likely dropped for convenience reasons.
When this happens, the chance of confusing the subordinating conjunction “so that” with the coordinating conjunction “so” is high.
The trick again is to try to replace the mentioned conjunction with “therefore” or “that’s why” to see if the sentence still makes sense.
If it doesn’t, then you are dealing with a subordinating conjunction.
The subordinating conjunction “whereas”
Meanwhile, the subordinating conjunction “whereas” is used for comparisons. Comparisons are done to present contrasting ideas.
“Instead of,” “in contrast to,” and “rather than” are just a few of the other existing subordinating conjunctions used for comparisons.
While “whereas” looks harmless at first glance, it is actually tricky to use. This is because it also bears the meaning “while,” which could also suggest the meaning “but.”
Since “but” is a coordinating conjunction, a comma before “whereas” needs to be used as well. Don’t worry because this is just an exception to the general rule.
To get a clearer picture of how “whereas” works, you may also read about how to use “whereas” in a sentence for clarity.
Here’s an example for your reference:
The subordinating conjunction “whenever”
Last but not least among the subordinating conjunctions in this post is “whenever.” This conjunction is used for expressing temporal or time-related ideas.
“Whenever” suggests the meaning “at whatever time or occasion,” and it does not need a pre-comma when it is used to link a dependent clause as well.
Since “whenever” denotes time, which also makes it an adverb at the same time, the dependent clause it introduces is known as an adverbial clause.
Here’s how you may use “whenever” in a sentence for more context:
By this point, you must already know that a comma is almost always not needed before a subordinate or dependent clause.
But, to get a fuller understanding of using a comma before a subordinate clause in a complex sentence structure, it would be best to read more about it during your free time.
The third major type of conjunctions is known as correlative conjunctions. These are the ones that come in pairs to blend parallel ideas.
More particularly, correlative conjunctions can blend either parallel subjects or parallel predicates. They are very useful in making ideas agree with each other.
As correlative conjunctions come in pairs, using only either of the conjunctive pair does not achieve the same effect.
Correlative conjunctions perform the job of both coordinating and subordinating conjunctions and are hence tricky to use sometimes.
These conjunctive pairs also come in different functions, like the other two types listed earlier.
Correlative conjunctions are mainly used for adding ideas, expressing alternatives, conditions, order of events, as well as comparisons.
To make things clearer, listed below are some correlative conjunctions according to function.
The correlative conjunction “not only…but also”
When combining and emphasizing two equally-important ideas at the same time, we make use of additive correlative conjunctions.
“Not only…but also” is what we use for highlighting another quality or feature of a person or thing apart from another one mentioned previously.
Remember that a comma before the word “not” is often unnecessary unless it introduces an afterthought within the sentence.
The concept of parallelism is usually touched on when “not only…but also” is being discussed.
To avoid incongruent sentence structures, the kind of words that have to be used in a sentence has to be deliberately determined.
Here’s an example of a sentence that observes parallelism:
The sentence above would be incongruent if it were written this way: Melissa is not only spontaneous but also has lots of energy.
The correlative conjunction “either…or”
When we need to present alternatives using correlative conjunctions, we usually make use of the pair “either…or.”
Using “Either…or” allows our listeners or readers to choose an option between the two being presented to them.
Note that a comma before or after “either” is never used when the word is used as a pair to “or.”
However, a comma before “or” may be used when it attaches an independent clause.
“Either…or” is strictly used for affirmative ideas. Whereas, the pair “neither…nor” is used for negative ones.
The correlative conjunction “whether…or”
We use “whether…or” for setting conditions. Adding “not” after “or” would create more emphasis, and it would also suggest the meaning “regardless of whether.”
Using “whether or not” vs. “whether” could be a tricky thing to do. But, the main difference is that the addition of “or not” makes the implication stronger.
To remember how to use “whether or not” in a sentence correctly, it is best that we simply think of the meaning “will or will not occur.”
Here’s how we can use the pair “whether…or”:
The correlative conjunction “no sooner…than”
Just like the subordinating conjunction “whenever,” the pair “no sooner…than” also conveys time-related meaning.
This pair is particularly used when one event occurs immediately or right after another. In other words, a very short gap exists between the two events or actions involved.
This pair is best used for emphasizing such an idea, altogether with other alternative pairs like “scarcely…when” and “hardly…when.”
The example above means that the power went off as soon as the subject had started watching the movie, which is too bad.
The correlative conjunction “as…as”
Finally, the correlative pair “as…as” is used for parallel comparisons. The pair often comes with either an adverb or an adjective in between.
This conjunctive pair is practical to use and is popular with similes – a figure of speech that makes descriptions more emphatic.
Using this pair suggests the implication that the first idea provides is worth the same as the second one.
By now, we hope you have already understood how conjunctions work as well as why they exist in the English language in the least.
This definitive guide for conjunctions should have addressed most if not all of your curious questions in mind.
Until then, fellow Linguaholic!
Frequently Asked Questions on “Conjunctions”
What are the 7 coordinating conjunctions?
The seven coordinating conjunctions include the words “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.” They are also widely known as the “FANBOYS” for convenience reasons.
What are the differences among coordinating, subordinating, and correlative conjunctions?
Coordinating conjunctions are those that link two independent clauses, whereas subordinating conjunctions connect an independent to a dependent clause. Meanwhile, correlative conjunctions are those that work in pairs and follow both principles of the coordinating and subordinating types.
What are some examples of conjunctions according to type?
“And,” “or,” and “but” belong to the coordinating type, while “although,” “if,” and “unless” belong to the subordinating type. “Neither…nor,” “both…and,” and “scarcely…when” belong to the correlative type.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.