Subordinating Conjunctions

What These Connecting Words Can Do for Your Writing

Common subordinating conjuctions table

ThoughtCo / J.R. Bee

A conjunction is a connecting word or phrase; a subordinating conjunction is a connecting word or phrase that introduces a dependent clause and joins it to a main clause or independent clause. Similarly, a coordinating conjunction sets up an equal partnership between the two clauses. When a subordinating conjunction is linked to a dependent clause, the unit is called a subordinate clause.

Subordinating Conjunctions

  • Subordinating conjunctions can be found in sentences containing two clauses: an independent or main clause and a dependent clause.
  • They must come at the beginning of a dependent clause.
  • Subordinators help lend meaning to a sentence by linking two ideas. Time, concession, comparison, cause, condition, and place are the types of subordinating conjunctions, categorized by meaning.
  • In most sentences, as long as the subordinating conjunction precedes the dependent clause, clause order does not matter.

Subordinating conjunctions are also known as subordinators, subordinate conjunctions, and complementizers. Many subordinators are single words such as because, before, and when, but some subordinating conjunctions consist of more than one word such as even though, as long as, and except that.

Subordinating conjunctions are separated into categories by meaning and can serve a few different purposes for a sentence. Learn subordinator categories and types, as well as how to construct a subordinate clause, here.

How to Construct a Subordinate Clause

Constructing a subordinate clause is as simple as attaching a subordinating conjunction to the beginning of a dependent clause. Then, decide which clause—main or subordinate—you want to come first. See the following example.

"They'll have a picnic on Saturday," an independent clause, can be modified by the dependent clause "it rains" using the conjunction unless: "They'll have a picnic on Saturday unless it rains." Said group is staking a picnic on Saturday's weather and, because the main clause begins the sentence, the conjunction belongs after it (before the dependent clause). If the sentence instead begins with the conjunction followed by a dependent clause, then a supporting main clause must follow. The meaning of both sentences is technically the same, but in this case, slightly more emphasis is shifted onto whichever clause that comes first.

Sometimes, placing a subordinate clause first can give deeper meaning to the main clause. In his play "The Importance of Being Earnest," Oscar Wilde demonstrated this. Mimicking the way people in love speak effusively to one another using subordinators, he wrote, "Gwendolyn says to Jack, 'If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life,'" (Wilde 1895).

Semantic Categories of Subordinating Conjunctions

As demonstrated, conjunctions can bring different layers of meaning to writing by building relationships between clauses. There are six main classes of conjunctions, categorized by meaning: time, concession, comparison, cause, condition, and place.

Time

Time-related conjunctions establish a period when the main clause will be or was performed. These include after, as soon as, as long as, before, once, still, until, when, whenever, and while. For example, "I will do the dishes after everyone has gone home" might be stated by a hostess who prefers to enjoy her guests' company while they are there.

Concession

Concession conjunctions help to redefine the main clause by providing additional context regarding conditions of delivery. Concession conjunctions highlight an action that took place in spite of an obstacle or hindrance and they include although, as though, and even though. An example would be, "Eliza wrote the Higgins report even though it was assigned to Colonel Pickering."

Comparison

Similarly, comparison conjunctions—which include just as, though, whereas, in contrast to, and while—help to establish correlations by providing context for comparison. "Ellen vlogged about the results of the political meeting, in contrast to her arch-enemy who merely blogged."

Cause

Cause conjunctions illuminate the reason(s) that the activities of a main clause were performed and are commonly engineered using as, because, in order that, since, and so that. "Grant dreamed about cheese because he had eaten so much of it the night before."

Condition

Condition conjunctions introduce rules under which a main clause performs. These are indicated by even if, if, in case, provided that, and unless. "If he's going to be there, I'm not going to the party." Often, subordinate clauses come first in conditional sentences but they are still dependent on the main clause and cannot exist outside of it.

Place

Place conjunctions, which determine where activities might occur, include where, wherever, and whereas. "I will place my conjunction in the sentence wherever I please."

Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions are not hard to find when you know where to look for them. Use these quotes to get started.

  • "Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humor, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character." -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
  • "I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it." -Pablo Picasso
  • "If you want to change the world, start with yourself." -Mahatma Gahndi
  • "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." -Anonymous

Practice Exercises

The following pairs of sentences can be combined into one complex unit using subordinating conjunctions. Try adding various conjunctions and conjunctive phrases to join the sentences until you find the best fit. Remember: for most sentences, sentence order does not matter (as long as the subordinating conjunction precedes the dependent clause).

  • I will help the man. He deserves it.
  • Mary came up. We were talking about her.
  • I admire Mr. Brown. He is my enemy.
  • I came. You sent for me.
  • Evelyn will come to school. She is able.
  • He knows he is wrong. He will not admit it.
  • The man is rich. He is unhappy.
  • The Mexican War came on. Polk was president.
  • I shall come tomorrow. You sent for me.
  • You wish to be believed. You must tell the truth.
  • The dog bites. He ought to be muzzled.
  • It would be foolish to set out. It is raining.
  • Call me at my office. You happen to be in town.
  • The cat ran up a tree. She was chased by a dog.
  • The sun shines brightly. It is very cold.

Sources

  • Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Thomas Egerton, 1813.
  • Wilde, Oscar. "The Importance of Being Earnest." Dover Publications, 1895.