Correlative Conjunction in Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

correlative conjunctions
Like Serena and Venus Williams playing a doubles match, correlative conjunctions work in pairs. (Visionhaus/Corbis/Getty Images)

In English grammar, a correlative conjunction is a paired conjunction (such as not only . . . but also) that links balanced words, phrases, and clauses. Also known as a paired coordinator and a conjunctive pair.

The elements connected by correlative conjunctions are usually ​parallel--that is, similar in length and grammatical form. Each element is called a ​conjoin.

These are the primary correlative conjunctions in English:
both . . . and
either . . . or
neither . . . nor
not . . . but
not only . . . but also

Other pairs that sometimes have a coordinating function include the following:
as . . . as
just as . . . so
the more . . . the less
the more . . . the more
no sooner . . . than
so . . . as
whether . . . or

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Latin, "to report, carry back"
Examples and Observations

  • "Both my mother and grandmother were strong women who overcame many obstacles and kept moving forward."
    (Mira Tasich, Good Bye Job, Hello Life: Finding Purpose Beyond Work. Balboa Press, 2014)
  • "I have neither been there nor done that."
    (Bart Simpson of The Simpsons)​
  • "I noticed that I couldn't move either my head or my arms."
    (Andrew S. Grove, Swimming Across. Grand Central, 2001)
  • "By about midnight, the other travelers had found a place to sleep, either in the huts of the village or under the coach itself."
    (James Fenton, "Road to Cambodia." The Granta Book of Travel, 1998)​
  • "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
    (Benjamin Franklin)
  • "I like not only to be loved, but also to be told that I am loved."
    (George Eliot in a letter to Mrs. Burne-Jones, May 11, 1875)​
  • "To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe."
    (Attributed to Anatole France
  • "The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig. He had evidently become precious to me, not that he represented a distant nourishment in a hungry time, but that he had suffered in a suffering world."
    (E.B. White, "Death of a Pig," 1948)
  • "Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire."
    (Attributed to William Butler Yeats)​
  • "The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun."
    (P. G. Wodehouse, Mr. Mulliner Speaking, 1929
  • "I couldn't distinguish whether I was smelling the clutching sound of misery or hearing the cloying odor of death."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1970
  • "Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both."
    (C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959
  • "In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are only consequences."
    (Attributed to Robert G. Ingersoll
  • "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends."
    (Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • "It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper."
    (Attributed to Rod Serling
  • Usage: Restrictions on Multiple Correlatives
    - "A rule of traditional grammar limits the use of correlative conjunctions to two elements. Sentences using three or more correlative conjunctions are widely viewed as erroneous in their construction. Thus sentences like the following are widely viewed as mistakes: Both her mother, her father, and her sister are great public speakers. The team has neither the talent, discipline, nor stamina to win the championship."
    (The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

    - "According to didactic tradition, the use of correlative coordinators is unacceptable when there are three or more conjoins:
    ?We are both willing, able, and ready to carry out the survey. [1}
    ? Either the Minister, or the Under-secretary, or the Permanent Secretary will attend the meeting. [2]
    ?Tompkins has neither the personality, the energy, nor the experience to win this election. [3]
    ". . . Although commonly stigmatized, multiple correlatives such as [1-3] can add clarity to constructions whose complexity might otherwise cause confusion. For this reason, such constructions are sometimes used even in careful written English, eg in the rubric of an examination paper:
    Candidates are required to answer EITHER Question 1 OR Question 2 OR Questions 3 and 4."
    (Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svartvik, A Grammar of Contemporary English. Longman, 1985)

    -"Either lead, follow, or get out of the way."
    (a common modern proverb)

    Pronunciation: kor-REL-i-tiv kon-JUNGK-shun

    mla apa chicago
    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Correlative Conjunction in Grammar." ThoughtCo, Mar. 23, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, March 23). Correlative Conjunction in Grammar. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Correlative Conjunction in Grammar." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 22, 2018).