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coordinating conjunctions

The word conjunction comes from a Latin root meaning “join.” In grammar, a conjunction is a joining word.

A coordinating conjunction is a joining word that connects things of equal value. It may join two or more nouns (or pronouns), verbs, adjectives, adverbs, phrases or clauses.

Seven coordinating conjunctions

The word fanboys is a memory tool that makes it easy to remember the seven coordinating conjunctions in English. This word is an acronym formed from the first letters of the seven conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

And, but and or are the three most commonly used coordinating conjunctions. They can be used to join almost any two or more words or word groups:

  • Josh, Sarah and Rashid (3 nouns)
  • slowly and carefully (2 adverbs)
  • tried but failed (2 verbs)
  • on private land but beside the school (2 phrases)
  • light or heavy (2 adjectives)
  • We can walk to town, or we can take the bus. (2 clauses)

Yet can be used in the same ways as but to join two contrasting ideas; however, yet gives more emphasis to the contrast.

  • The winning team returned home, tired yet happy.
  • Alanna was groggy from jet lag, yet she sang brilliantly.

Nor means “and not”; it is used to join independent clauses, but it requires a change in word order: part of the verb (or sometimes the entire verb) comes before the subject.

  • He did not call, nor did he send a text message. [= and he did not send a text message]

For is similar in meaning to because—it is used between independent clauses to show that the second idea is the cause of the first one:

  • We set up camp early, for we were tired from the hike. [Means because we were tired…]

So is similar in meaning to therefore—it is used between independent clauses to show that the second idea is the result of the first one:

  • We were tired from the hike, so we set up camp early. [Means therefore, we set up camp early]

Punctuation with coordinating conjunctions

When a coordinating conjunction is used between any two words, phrases or dependent clauses, a comma is not ordinarily used before the conjunction:

  • small yet strong
  • quickly but accurately
  • in June or in July
  • after we eat and before we leave

However, when two independent clauses (sentences) are joined with a coordinating conjunction, a comma is usually needed before the conjunction:

  • I found John reading in the living room, and we left for the party in one car.
  • Marika cooks tasty Hungarian dishes, but she also loves recipes from other ethnic groups.

Note: For rules on joining more than two items, see the tip serial comma.