Introduction to French Conjunctions

'And,' 'when, 'so that' are the glue that binds words and phrases together.

Introduction to French Conjunctions

Conjunctions provide a link between similar words or groups of words, such as nouns, verbs, people and things. There are two types of French conjunctions: coordinating and subordinating. 

1. Coordinating conjunctions join words and groups of words with an equal value.

   J'aime les pommes et les oranges.
   I like apples and oranges.

    Je veux le faire, mais je n'ai pas d'argent.
    
I want to do it, but I don't have any money.

2. Subordinating conjunctions join dependent clauses to main clauses.

   J'ai dit que j'aime les pommes.
   I said that I like apples.

   Il travaille pour que vous puissiez manger.
   He works so that you can eat.

French Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions join words and groups of words of equal value that have the same nature or the same function in the sentence. In the case of individual words, this means that they must be the same part of speech. If they're clauses, they must be similar or complementary tenses/moods. These are frequently used French coordinating conjunctions:

  • car > for, because
  • donc > so
  • ensuite > next
  • et > and
  • mais > but
  • or > now, yet
  • ou > or
  • ou bien > or else
  • puis > then

Examples
   J'aime les pommes, les bananes et les oranges.
   I like apples, bananas, and oranges.
   —Pommes, bananes, and oranges are all fruits (nouns).

   Veux-tu aller en France ou en Italie ?
   Do you want to go to France or Italy?
   —France and Italy are both places (nouns).

   Ce n'est pas carré mais rectangulaire.
   It's not square but rectangular.
   —Carré and rectangulaire are both adjectives.

   Je veux le faire, mais je n'ai pas d'argent.
   I want to do it, but I don't have any money.
   —Je veux le faire and je n'ai pas d'argent are present tense.

   Fais tes devoirs, puis lave la vaisselle.
   Do your homework, then wash the dishes.
   —Fais tes devoirs and lave la vaisselle are both commands.

Note: French children learn the mnemonic "Mais où est donc Ornicar ?" to help them remember the most common French coordinating conjunctions—mais, ou, et, donc, or, ni and car.

Quiz: French coordinating conjunctions

Repeated Coordinating Conjunctions

Certain French coordinating conjunctions can be repeated in front of each of the joined items for emphasis:

  • et...et > both...and
  • ne...ni... ni > neither...nor
  • ou...ou > either...or
  • soit...soit > either...or

   Je connais et Jean-Paul et son frère.
   I know both Jean-Paul and his brother.
   —Jean-Paul and son frère are both people (nouns).

Note that for the negative coordinating conjunction ne...ni...ni, the word ne goes in front of the verb, just like the ne in other negative structures.

French Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions join dependent (subordinate) clauses to main clauses. A dependent clause cannot stand alone because its meaning is incomplete without the main clause. In addition, sometimes the dependent clause has a verb form that cannot stand alone. There are some frequently used French subordinate conjunctions:

  • quand > when
  • que > that
  • quoique* > even though
  • si > if

    *Note that quoique must be followed by the subjunctive.
    *For subordinating conjunctions like afin que and parce que, see conjunctive phrases.

    Examples
       J'ai dit que j'aime les pommes.
       I said that I like apples.
    The main clause is j'ai dit. What did I say? J'aime les pommesJ'aime les pommes is incomplete without j'ai dit. I might not in fact like apples, but I said that I did.

       Comme tu n'es pas prêt, j'y irai seul.
       
    Since you're not ready, I'll go alone.
    The main clause is j'y irai seul. Why will I go alone? Because tu n'es pas prêt. The idea here is not that I want to go alone, but the fact that I will go alone since you're not ready.

       Si je suis libre, je t'amènerai à l'aéroport.
       
    If I'm free, I'll take you to the airport.
    The main clause is je t'amènerai à l'aéroport. Is this guaranteed? No, only si je suis libre. If something else comes up, I can't take you.

       J'ai peur quand il voyage.
       
    I am scared when he travels.
    The main clause is j'ai peur. When am I scared? Not all the time, only quand il voyage. So j'ai peur is incomplete without the juxtaposition quand il voyage.

    French Conjunctive Phrases

    A conjunctive phrase is a group of two or more words that function as a conjunction. French conjunctive phrases usually end in que, and most are subordinating conjunctions.

    • à condition que* > provided that
    • afin que* > so that
    • ainsi que > just as, so as
    • alors que > while, whereas
    • à mesure que > as (progressively)
    • à moins que** > unless
    • après que > after, when
    • à supposer que* > assuming that
    • au cas où > in case
    • aussitôt que > as soon as
    • avant que** > before
    • bien que* > although
    • dans l'hypothèse où > in the event that
    • de crainte que** > for fear that
    • de façon que* > in such a way that
    • de manière que* > so that
    • de même que > just as
    • de peur que** >for fear that
    • depuis que > since
    • de sorte que* > so that, in such a way that
    • dès que > as soon as
    • en admettant que* > assuming that
    • en attendant que* > while, until
    • encore que* > even though
    • jusqu'à ce que* > until
    • parce que > because
    • pendant que > while
    • pour que* > so that
    • pourvu que* > provided that
    • quand bien même > even though/if
    • quoi que* > whatever, no matter what
    • sans que** > without
    • sitôt que > as soon as
    • supposé que* > supposing
    • tant que > as or so much as / as long as
    • tandis que > while, whereas
    • vu que > seeing as/that

    *These conjunctions must be followed by the subjunctive.
    **These conjunctions require the subjunctive and ne explétif.

    Examples
       Il travaille pour que vous puissiez manger.
       He works so that you can eat.
    The main clause is il travaille. Why does he work? Pour que vous puissiez manger. The idea here is not that you can eat, but the fact that you can eat because he works. Another clue is that vous puissiez manger cannot stand alone; the subjunctive is only found in subordinate clauses.

       J'ai réussi à l'examen bien que je n'aie pas étudié.
       I passed the test even though I didn't study.
    The main clause is j'ai réussi à l'examen. How did I pass the test? Certainly not by studying, since je n'ai pas étudié. So j'ai réussi à l'examen is incomplete without the juxtaposition bien que je n'aie pas étudié. 

       Il est parti parce qu'il avait peur.
       He left because he was afraid.
    The main clause is il est parti. Why did he leave? Because il avait peur. The idea il avait peur is incomplete without the main clause il est parti.