Coordinating Conjunctions in English

Definition and Examples

Putting puzzle pieces together
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A coordinating conjunction is a conjunction or connecting word that joins two similarly constructed and/or syntactically equal words, phrases, or clauses within a sentence. Conjunctions are also called coordinators. The coordinating conjunctions in English are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so—many remember these with the mnemonic "F.A.N.B.O.Y.S."

Coordinating conjunctions are similar to ​subordinating conjunctions, but subordinating conjunctions are used to join an independent and dependent (subordinate) clause while coordinators join two independent clauses.

When linking two independent clauses to create a compound sentence, place a comma before the coordinating conjunction. When linking two nouns, adjectives, adverbs, or verbs—for example in the case of a compound predicate—a comma is not needed.

Independent Clauses and Compound Predicates

Two common coordinating conjunction usages are to join independent clauses to form a sentence or two verbs to form a compound predicate. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these scenarios.

Independent Clauses

Independent clauses contain both a subject and a verb, so they can stand on their own. Look at these examples.

  • She wondered when he would get home. She decided not to call.

To combine the above complete sentences, you would either need to join them with a semicolon or comma and a coordinating conjunction, like this: 

  • She wondered when he would get home, but she decided not to call.

Even when linked, each independent clause keeps its own subject and verb. If they were to be joined without a comma and conjunction, this would result in a common writing error called a comma splice. 

Compound Predicates

The sentence below contains a compound predicate, two verbs that share the same subject.

  • She wondered when he would get home but decided not to call.

Though this doesn't appear to be much different from two independent clauses, notice that She is being shared by the verbs wondered and decided because she did both. There's no comma before but and there are no independent clauses because there is only one subject for the whole sentence.

Can You Start a Sentence With a Conjunction?

Many people, at some point in their life, have wondered: can you start a sentence with but or and? For all intents and purposes, yes, a coordinating conjunction may technically be used at the beginning of a sentence. This is just one way that many writers choose to transition. Conjunctions can break up the tedium of sentences too similar in structure and add emphasis.

However, the use of conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence is a controversial topic, though more a matter of whether you should than whether you can. Overall, there are plenty of people in favor and plenty against. Many English teachers, for instance, forbid this in their students' writing, yet some professional writers do it freely. Author David Crystal offers his take on this topic below.

"And at the beginning of a sentence? During the 19th century, some schoolteachers took against the practice of beginning a sentence with a word like but or and, presumably because they noticed the way young children often overused them in their writing. But instead of gently weaning the children away from overuse, they banned the usage altogether! Generations of children were taught they should 'never' begin a sentence with a conjunction. Some still are.

There was never any authority behind this condemnation. It isn't one of the rules laid down by the first prescriptive grammarians. Indeed, one of those grammarians, Bishop Lowth, uses dozens of examples of sentences beginning with and. And in the 20th century, Henry Fowler, in his famous Dictionary of Modern English Usage, went so far as to call it a 'superstition.' He was right. There are sentences starting with And that date back to Anglo-Saxon times," (Crystal 2011).

Use Sparingly

As Crystal pointed out, you shouldn't overdo it with conjunction introductions. This practice can greatly influence your writing and, when overused, muddle the flow and clarity of your piece. Take this example: "She wondered when he would get home. But she decided not to call."

In this case, splitting up the two sentences changes their rhythm and pacing, placing emphasis on the second clause. Joining them with a conjunction would not have the same effect. Before you start a sentence with a conjunction, think about how you want it to affect your piece. This convention isn't something you want to use sentence after sentence, but it can serve as a useful tool from time to time.

Sources

  • Crystal, David. The Story of English in 100 Words. St. Martin's Press, 2011.
  • Fowler, Henry. Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press, 1926.