Although trickier than coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions are great language devices too.
Why so? Well, they simply make writing and speaking more organized, if not proficient.
Yes, the term used for these grammatical elements might be a bit intimidating. But, you need not worry because you surely have heard of these things before.
Did you see how I used one in the last sentence? If you were able to spot it, then reading the rest of this post should be as easy as it can be.
So, what exactly are subordinating conjunctions? Let’s get right into the quick answer.
What are subordinating conjunctions?
Subordinating conjunctions are types of words that connect independent clauses to dependent clauses to form complex sentences. Examples of these are “although” for concessions, “because” for reasons, “if” for conditions, “so that” for purposes, “whereas” for comparisons, and “whenever” for time.
Subordinating Conjunctions Types
|Time||Condition||Cause/Reason & Effect||Concession||Purpose||Comparison|
|After||As long as||As||Admittedly||In order that||As|
|As||As soon as||Because||Although||In order to||Just as|
|As long as||Assuming that||Due to||Be that as it may||Lest||Than|
|As soon as||Even if||For||Despite||So||Rather than|
|Before||If||Given that||Even if||So that||Whether|
|By the time||in case||Inasmuch as||Even though||Supposing (that)||Whereas|
|Once||Lest||In that||Granted that|
|Since||Only if||Now that||However|
|Till||Provided that||Owing to||In spite of|
|Until||Suppose that||Seeing that||Nevertheless|
|In order that|
Please note that the list above is not exhaustive and also that several subordinate conjunctions can and actually are part of several subordinate conjunction types.
Depending on who you ask, there are many different types of subordinating conjunctions in English.
This is one of the reasons why this topic is a bit tricky to follow.
But, of course, there is also a good reason behind this. Apart from the fact that language per is wild and whimsical, language learners meanwhile have different levels of proficiency.
With this in mind, language experts have come up with general and specific ways of introducing the concept of conjunctions.
There are three main types of conjunctions. Namely, these are the coordinating type, the subordinating type, and the correlative type.
Coordinating conjunctions link at least two independent clauses. Subordinating conjunctions link an independent clause to a dependent clause.
For the sake of our discussion today, this post only focuses on subordinating conjunctions. By the end of this post, you should be able to get rid of any confusion about this matter.
While you won’t necessarily find a lot of subordinating conjunctions in grade school essays, you should be able to see them in research articles, business correspondence, and legal texts.
Subordinating conjunctions are generally used for conveying concessions, reasons, conditions, purposes, comparisons, and time among others.
Let’s discuss each of these things one after another. With this strategy, you should see a clearer picture of what they are and how they work in context.
Subordinating conjunctions for concession
In grammar, concession means assessing and resisting how valid an idea is. For instance, you suggest one thing and then you continue with something else.
In other words, you would seem to be “negotiating” with what you said first, particularly the main idea of your statement or sentence.
“Even though,” “although,” “though,” “lest,” and “in spite of” are some of the most commonly used subordinating conjunctions for concession.
To be able to oppose your main idea within the statement, we need the help of subordinating conjunctions for concession.
These kinds of conjunctions have the power to link the dependent concession clause to the independent idea clause.
The regular order of this kind of sentence is to start with the main idea followed by the concession.
Take note that no comma is needed in this structure. Here are some examples:
Note that the order of the ideas above can also be reversed. This may be done to put more focus on the concession part of the sentence.
As you can see, no comma comes before or after “although” in both regular and reversed sentence structures as a rule of thumb.
For simplification purposes, here is a list with subordinating conjuctions of concession:
- Be that as it may
- Even if
- Even though
- Granted that
- In spite of
- Regardless of
Subordinating conjunctions for cause/reason & effect
As the name suggests, subordinating conjunctions for cause or reason are used to link explanations of why things happen.
The most widely used subordinating conjunctions for cause or reason include “because,” “since,” and “as.”
Remember, though, that the meaning of the conjunction “since” in this context is the one that is similar to “because.”
When “since” is used to suggest the time-related meaning “from a certain time in the past” and followed by a noun phrase, it acts as a preposition rather than a conjunction.
Explanations are forms of justifications that we use to clarify events.
As they are higher-level arguments, they are helpful in contextualizing why certain things happen.
Like all subordinating conjunctions used to attach dependent ideas mid-sentence, these kinds of conjunctions also need no commas in a regular sentence structure.
Under normal circumstances, we need not place a comma before “since” or “because.” This is, again, the rule of thumb for all subordinating conjunctions.
We may only need to do so if we use them to introduce interruptive thoughts that are grammatically unimportant.
Here is a list with subordinating conjunctions for cause or reason for you:
- Due to
- Given that
- Inasmuch as
- In that
- Now that
- Owing to
- Seeing that
- Because of
- In order that
Subordinating conjunctions for condition
In the simplest terms possible, conditions are a form of “guesswork” or speculation. This means the idea suggested by the condition may or may not happen.
Expressing conditions requires more advanced thinking because it entails talking about “what may or may not happen.”
Some of the most common subordinating conjunctions for conditions are “if”, “unless”, “provided that”, “if and when”, “if and only if,” and “as long as.”
These kinds of conjunctions are very common in legal writing contexts. This is because there is a need to set benefits and consequences in advance for the sake of the parties involved.
No comma should also come before subordinating conjunctions for condition when they link the conditional clause or idea midway.
Here are some examples for better understanding:
However, a comma before “if” or any of other conditional subordinating conjunctions may be needed if and when they are used to introduce interruptions somewhere within the sentence.
Here are all the subordinating conjunctions belonging to the type “condition” in a handy list:
- As long as
- As soon as
- Assuming that
- Even if
- In case
- Only if
- Provided that
- Suppose that
Subordinating conjunctions for purpose
Subordinating conjunctions may also be used to introduce the purpose of actions and events. Because of this, they may also be referred to as conjunctions for result at times.
Purpose simply suggests the meaning “aim” or “goal.” We need to convey these kinds of ideas especially when we want to explain our motivations and intentions to someone.
Some of the most commonly used subordinating conjunctions for purpose include “so,” “so that,” “in order to” and “in order that.”
Remember that “so” may also be used as a coordinating conjunction. This is why a comma before or after “so” may be observed at times.
To know whether or not “so” is used as a subordinating conjunction, it should not be replaceable with “therefore” or “so that.”
Here are some example sentences using subordinating conjunctions for purpose:
As you can see, subordinating conjunctions for purpose are important in justifying the intention of certain actions and events.
These types of conjunctions work almost similarly as subordinating conjunctions for cause or reason, which means that they may be grouped as one sometimes.
Subordinating conjunctions for purpose:
- In order that
- In order to
- So that
- Supposing (that)
Subordinating conjunctions for comparison
Comparisons are very helpful in presenting at least two related or even contrasting ideas. They are used to convey options or choices.
We make certain choices every day, hence their importance in language. At times, we may also need to present options to others, which is why these conjunctions do come in handy.
Some of the most popular subordinating conjunctions for comparison are “instead of”, “rather than”, “whereas”, and “while,” and “in contrast to.”
“In contrast to” is particularly used to say that one idea is poles apart from the other one being presented or introduced.
Also, we have to remember that “while” can also be used to denote time-related meaning, just like “since” earlier.
Slightly more formal than the others, “whereas” is also a great subordinating conjunction to use when we want to shorten phrases like “on the contrary” and “on the other hand.”
Subordinating conjunctions for comparison are quite tricky to use. This is because they entail using a different approach to comma placement.
What we can remember, though, is that these types of conjunctions are special because they may need a pre-comma even if they appear mid-sentence.
This is due to the fact that they are meanwhile used to denote the meaning “but,” which is a coordinating conjunction.
“Whereas” and “while” in particular are quite special because they may also be used as coordinating conjunctions sometimes. They are also interchangeable.
Here is our list of subordinating conjunctions for comparison:
- Just as
- Rather than
Subordinating conjunctions for time
Last but not least, subordinating conjunctions for time are used to denote time-related ideas. These ideas are also dependent rather than independent types of clauses.
Adverbs can denote time, hence clauses introduced by subordinating conjunctions for time are actually called adverbial clauses, too.
Compared to the other types listed earlier, subordinating conjunctions for time are perhaps the easiest ones to use and make sense of.
“Until”, “since,” “before”, “after”, “whenever,” and “while” are some of the most frequently used subordinating conjunctions of time.
These conjunctions are not preceded by a comma unless they introduce interruptive expressions in writing.
Here’s a list with all the common subordinating conjunctions for time:
- As long as
- As soon as
- By the time
Understanding subordinating conjunctions
Recognizing all conjunctions in general requires special attention. This is because conjunctions belong to the grammatical category called “function words.”
In layman’s terms, function words work like bolts and screws in sentence construction. This means that instead of having sensible meaning, they exist to connect words, phrases, and clauses.
Among all the three main types of conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions particularly are at an average difficulty level.
To put this idea in context, we could say that coordinating conjunctions are much easier to learn than subordinating conjunctions.
However, correlative conjunctions are meanwhile trickier to use and make sense of when compared to subordinating conjunctions.
Understanding how and when to use subordinating conjunctions specifically entails learning the anatomy of sentences.
Sentences are formed because words can be extended into phrases, and phrases can further be extended to form clauses.
To be able to fully understand this difference, it would be helpful to know the difference between clauses and phrases in case you are unaware of it.
Once the distinction is understood, knowing when we should use a comma before a subordinate clause would also be of useful.
Of course, exposing yourself more to the actual use of the English language in both spoken and written contexts is also something very important to do.
Once you get to hear and read more often about how the English language is used in actual contexts, your language proficiency will also expand naturally.
Frequently Asked Questions on “Subordinating Conjunctions”
What is the difference between subordinating and coordinating conjunctions?
Subordinating conjunctions connect independent and dependent clauses to form complex sentences. Meanwhile, coordinating conjunctions connect independent clauses to form compound sentences.
Can we use subordinating conjunctions at the beginning of the sentence?
Subordinating conjunctions can be used at the beginning of the sentence in a reverse sentence structure. Doing so shifts the emphasis from the main idea to the dependent idea.
How can we remember subordinating conjunctions?
The easiest way to remember subordinating conjunctions is to think that they are neither of the FANBOYS nor the conjunctions that work in pairs. The mnemonic device “FANBOYS” are the ones that belong to the coordinating type. Meanwhile, the ones that work in pairs 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.