10 Facts About Spanish Conjunctions

Common Connecting Words Include 'Y,' 'O' and 'Que'

Sign demonstrating use of a Spanish conjunction
This sign, "Trincheras y refugio," shows the use of the conjunction "y." It says, "Trenches and shelter," a reference to a Spanish Civil War site near Alcubierre, Spain. Photo by Srgpicker; licensed via Creative Commons.

Here are 10 facts about conjunctions that will be useful for you to know as you learn Spanish:

1. Conjunctions are a type of connecting word. Conjunctions make up one of the parts of speech and are used to connect sentences, phrases or words with each other. Generally, a conjunction will link two words (or phrases or sentences) of the same type, such as a noun with a noun or a sentence with another sentence.

2. Conjunctions can be classified in a variety of ways. One common scheme classifies conjunctions as coordinating (linking two words, sentences or phrases of equal grammatical status), subordinating (making the meaning of a clause depend on another clause or sentence) and correlative (coming in pairs). Other classification schemes for Spanish list a dozen or more types of conjunctions such as conjunciones adversativas (adversative conjunctions such as "but" or pero that set up a contrast), conjunciones condicionales (conditional conjunctions such as "if" or si that set up a condition) and conjunciones ilativas (illative conjunctions such as por eso or "therefore" that are used in explaining the reason for something).

3. Conjunctions can be made up of more than one word. Spanish abounds with short phrases that are used as conjunctions and function as a single word. Examples include sin embargo (nevertheless), a causa de (because), por lo tanto (therefore), para que (in order that) and aun cuando (even if).

(Note that the translations given here and throughout this article aren't the only ones possible.)

4. Two of the most common conjunctions change form when coming before certain words. Y, which usually means "and," changes to e when it comes before a word that starts with the sound of i. And , which usually means "or," changes to u when it comes before a word starting with the sound of o.

For example, we would write palabras u oraciones (words or sentences) instead of palabras o oraciones and niños u hombres (boys or men) instead of niños o hombres. This change of y and o is similar to the way "a" becomes "an" before certain words in English, in order to help keep the sound of the first word from disappearing into the second.

5. Certain conjunctions are usually or always followed by a clause with a verb in the subjunctive mood. Examples include a fin de que (in order to) and a condición de que (provided that).

6. The very common conjunction que often doesn't have to be translated to English but is essential in Spanish. Que as a conjunction usually means "that" as in the sentence "Creo que estaban felices" (I believe that they were happy). Note how that sentence could also be translated without the "that": I believe they were happy. But the que remains essential to the Spanish sentence.

7. It is acceptable to begin a sentence with y, the word for "and." Often, y starts a sentence to provide emphasis. For example, "¿Y las diferencias entre tú y yo?" might be translated as "What about the differences between you and me?"

8. Many of the words that function as conjunctions can also function as other parts of speech. For example, luego is a conjunction in "Pienso, luego existo" (I think, therefore I am) but an adverb in "Vamos luego a la playa" (We're going to the beach later).

9. Distributive conjunctions are made up of two words that are separated by other words. Among these is o ... o, which usually means "either ... or" as in "O él o ella puede firmarlo" (Either he or she can sign it). Also common is ni ... ni as in "No soy ni la primera ni la última" (I am neither the first nor the last).

10. Some conjunctions are used in explaining when or where something occurs. The most common ones are cuando and donde, respectively. Example: Recuerdo cuando me dijiste donde pudiera encontrar la felicidad (I remember when you told me where I could find happiness).