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What Is a Conjunction?

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You can use a conjunction to link words, phrases and clauses, as in the following examples:

  • I ate the pizza and the pasta.
  • Call the movers when you are ready.

Co-ordinating Conjunctions

Use a co-ordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so or yet) to join individual words, phrases and independent clauses. Note that you can also use the conjunctions but and for as prepositions.

Each of the highlighted words below is a co-ordinating conjunction.

In the following example,

  • Lilacs and violets are usually purple.

the co-ordinating conjunction and links two nouns.

In the example,

  • This movie is especially interesting to feminist film theorists, for the screenplay was written by Mae West.

the co-ordinating conjunction for links two independent clauses.

In the sentence,

  • Jack claimed that he spent most of his youth dancing on rooftops and swallowing goldfish.

the co-ordinating conjunction and links two participle phrases (dancing on rooftops and swallowing goldfish), which act as adverbs describing the verb spent.

Subordinating Conjunctions

A subordinating conjunction introduces a dependent clause and indicates the nature of the relationship(s) between the independent clause(s) and the dependent clause(s).

The most common subordinating conjunctions are after, although, as, because, before, how, if, once, since, than, that, though, till, until, when, where, whether and while.

Each of the highlighted words in the following examples is a subordinating conjunction.

  • After she had learned to drive, Alice felt more independent.

The subordinating conjunction after introduces the dependent clause after she had learned to drive.

  • If the paperwork arrives on time, your cheque will be mailed on Tuesday.

Similarly, the subordinating conjunction if introduces the dependent clause if the paperwork arrives on time.

  • Gerald had to begin his report again when his computer crashed.

The subordinating conjunction when introduces the dependent clause when his computer crashed.

  • Midwifery advocates argue that home births are safer because the mother and baby are exposed to fewer people and fewer germs.

The dependent clause because the mother and baby are exposed to fewer people and fewer germs is introduced by the subordinating conjunction because.

Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions, which always appear in pairs, link equivalent sentence elements. The most common correlative conjunctions are both . . . and, either . . . or, neither . . . nor, not only . . . but also, so . . . as, and whether . . . or. (Technically, correlative conjunctions consist simply of a co-ordinating conjunction linked to an adjective or adverb.)

The highlighted words in the following examples are correlative conjunctions.

  • Both my grandfather and my father worked in the steel plant.

In this sentence, the correlative conjunction both . . . and links the two noun phrases that act as the compound subject of the sentence (my grandfather and my father).

  • Bring either a Jello salad or a potato salad.

Here the correlative conjunction either . . . or links two noun phrases (a Jello salad and a potato salad).

  • Corinne is trying to decide whether to go to medical school or to go to law school.

Similarly, the correlative conjunction whether . . . or links the two infinitive phrases (to go to medical school and to go to law school).

  • The fire destroyed not only the school but also the neighbouring pub.

In this example, the correlative conjunction not only . . . but also links the two noun phrases (the school and the neighbouring pub) that act as direct objects.

Note that some words that function as conjunctions can also act as prepositions or adverbs.

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