English Conjunctions: Joining Words, Phrases, Clauses, and Ideas Together in English
Conjunctions are words we use to link other words or ideas together. In this posting I talk about 3 types of conjunctions and how they work. You will see many example sentences. The download at the end will give you additional practice using and understanding these important words.
What are conjunctions?
Conjunctions are words that join other words, phrases, clauses, and ideas together. They help our speech and writing to be more complex and flowing. In addition, they keep our expression from being choppy. There are 3 types of conjunctions: coordinating, correlative, and subordinating conjunctions. We will now look at each type.
Coordinating conjunctions link words, phrases, ideas, or clauses that are of equal importance in the sentence. There are 7 common coordination conjunctions. We can remember them with the mnemonic device FANBOYS.
- for (means because)–He had no trouble traveling in Mexico, for he speaks fluent Spanish.
- and (means in addition or also and joins similar ideas together)–Bob lives in Denver, and he drives a Toyota. Bob and Mary both drive Toyotas.
- nor (joins two ideas together in a negative sentence)–He has no money, nor does he have any plans for earning money.
This means that he has no money, but he does not have any plans to get a job and earn money.
- but (links tow contrasting, but equally important ideas)–Bob likes apples, but Mary likes oranges.
- or (links two ideas where there is an alternative or a choice)–We could go to the zoo, or we could go to the art museum. Would you prefer animals or art?
- yet ( means someone continues to do something)–The doctor told her she has diabetes, yet she keeps on eating sugar.
- so (shows that the second idea is the result of the first)–He was always late for work, so the boss fired him.
Correlative conjunctions work in pairs. Each must have its partner with him to function correctly. Here are the 3 most common correlative conjunctions.
- either…or (This gives and alternative or a choice)–Either you pay your rent on time, or the landlord will evict you.
Note that the first idea follows either, and the second idea follows or. All correlative conjunction pairs work in this way.
- neither…nor ( This shows and alternative in a negative sentence.)–Neither his friends nor his neighbors realized that he had gone on vacation.
- This means that his friends did not know that he had gone an vacation. His neighbors, also, did not know that he had gone on vacation.
- not only…but also (This means that in addition to one idea. there are also others.)-He wants not only a high-paying job, but also a lot of time off. I’m not sure he can have both.
This means that he wants a high-paying job, but that isn’t enough. He insists on lots of time off as well.
Subordinating conjunctions link and independent clause (a group of words with a subject and verb that can stand alone) with a dependent clause (a clause that can’t stand alone). They can signal a cause/effect relationship, a contrast, or other things. Many subordinating conjunctions also introduce adjective or adverb clauses. You may wish to label these words as adjectives or adverbs rather than conjunctions. That is not a problem. These words have a “double identity.” There are a large number of these words or expressions–far to many to discuss in one posting. Below are some of the more common ones.
- after (shows time)–After you finish work, call me.
- although (shows contrast)–Although she was tired, she kept on dancing.
The as family of subordinating conjunctions
- as (means because)–He grew up speaking Chinese, as his parents are from China.
- as if (shows contrast between what is reality and what is not)–Cindy acts as if she knows everything.
- as long as (shows a condition)–As long as my neighbor keeps his dog in the yard, I won’t be afraid of it.
- as though (means the same as as if)–My brother spends money as though he were a millionaire.
Additional subordinating conjunctions
- because (shows a reason for something or cause/effect)–She went to the doctor because she was sick.
- before (shows time)–I eat breakfast before I leave for work.
- if (shows a condition)–I will cook dinner tonight if you bring the dessert.
- rather than (shows a preference)–She would prefer to work and night rather than work a split shift.
- since (means because)–He drove slowly since he was in a school zone.
- though (shows contrast about what you would think logically makes sense)–Though he has a PhD in theoretical mathematics, he can’t do simple math calculations.
- unless (shows a condition)–Unless he finishes his project at work, he will not get a raise.
- until (shows time)–Simmer the rice on low until all the water is absorbed.
- whatever (shows a preference)–Order whatever you want on the menu. It’s my treat.
- when (shows time)–He will move when he finds an apartment he can afford.
- whenever (shows time)–Come whenever you want. I’ll be home.
- whereas (shows contrast)–Diego prefers jazz, whereas Anita prefers classical music.
- wherever (shows location)–You can vacation wherever you want to.
- while (shows contrast)–I need 8 hours of sleep every night, while my brother only needs four.
Conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence
You may have heard that you should never begin a sentence with a conjunction. This is not always true. There is no problem beginning a sentence with a correlative or subordinating conjunction. Beginning an sentence with a coordinating conjunction is acceptable in conversation. However, you should not do this in writing.
You now know that conjunctions are linking words. The join together other words, phrases, clauses, or ideas. Coordinating conjunctions connect equal elements. Correlative conjunctions work in pairs. Both member of the pair must be there to be correct. Subordinating conjunctions link independent and dependent clauses. Most subordinating conjunctions can also be called adjectives or adverbs, and introduce an adjective or adverb clause. Sentences often begin with correlative and subordinating conjunctions. They may begin with coordinating conjunctions in conversation, but not in writing.
Idioms of the day
- from the get-go–This means from the beginning. Roberto never did his work correctly, so his co-workers never liked him from the get-go.
- to face the music–This means to accept the unpleasant consequence of a poor choice you made. Dave hardly ever went to class and failed every test. Now he needs to face the music. He’s failed the class.