What are Conjunctions?

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Conjunctions can join words, phrases or sentences in English. To begin with, let's take a look at simple conjunctions that link words such as nouns, adjectives, verbs or adverbs. Note how and, or, and but are used in the following sentences:

She bought a TV and a dishwasher.
You can either do your homework or go to bed.
He's talented but modest.

Conjunctions used to connect two simple sentences are known as coordinating conjunctions.

 Coordinating conjunctions are also known as "fanboys:"

F - for - I'm studying grammar, for we have a test tomorrow.
A - and - They decided on a trip, and she ordered the tickets online. 
N - nor - I don't like chicken, nor does my friend Peter like chiken. 
B - but - It was raining, but I went for a walk. 
O - or - You'll have to hurry up, or we will miss the bus.
Y - yet - Lane has wanted to visit London for years, yet she's never made the trip.
S - so - We needed some cash, so we went to the bank. 

Note how each sentence is actually two simple sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction:

We needed some cash. We went to the bank. -> We needed some cash, so we went to the bank.

Coordinating conjunctions follow the same grammar pattern. They are placed before the second connecting sentence and preceded by a comma. Sentences using coordinating conjunctions are known as compound sentences which you can practice with compound sentence writing exercises.

Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions are slightly different than coordinating conjunctions and are much more numerous. Subordinating conjunctions connect an independent and a dependent clause. This means that one clause can stand on its own, but the other clause can not. It is dependent on the other clause to make sense.

Because she needed to improve her business English skills. - dependent clause

She attended a business English course last summer. - independent clause

We can combine the dependent clause beginning with because to the independent clause to make sense:

Because she needed to improve her business English skills, she attended a business English course last summer. 

A good way to learn subordinating conjunctions in in groups:

Causality -> because, since, as

Peter invested in the stock market as he was sure the economy was going to improve.

Time -> when, as soon as, before, after, while

I'll pick you up for the movies when I get off work tonight.

Opposition / Contrast -> though, although, even though, while, whereas

Though the test was difficult, the students did very well.

Condition -> if, unless, even if, only if

If she finishes the report on time, we'll make a good impression.

Note that dependent clauses beginning with subordinating conjunctions can either begin a sentence or be placed after the independent clause. Use a comma before the independent clause when beginning a sentence with a subordinating dependent clause:

Though I'd like to come to the party, we don't have enough time. OR We don't have enough time though I'd like to come to the party. 

Paired Conjunctions

A fourth type of conjunction is known as a paired (or correlative) conjunction. Paired conjunctions are used to introduce two words as subjects or objects of a sentence:

both ... and -> Both Tom and Peter work at a supermarket.
either ... or -> Either Alex or Susan will prepare the presentation for the meeting.
neither ... nor -> Neither my friends nor I wish to have anything to do with you.

Teachers might find this lesson on paired conjunctions useful to help students practice more advanced uses of conjunctions.

Conjunctions Quiz

Decide whether the conjunction in italics is used in each sentence is a simple, coordinating, subordinating or paired conjunction:

  1. My friend decided to purchase a new boat even though he had just lost his job. 
  2. Alyssa took the summer off as she had plans to visit family.
  1. Jack and his brother Boris enjoy hunting.
  2. Both my boss and my supervisor are on vacation this week. 
  3. It's sweet but sour at the same time!
  4. You'll find we love our clients, so you'll come back time and time again.
  5. Unless he stops making that noise, I'll go crazy!
  6. The painting was inspiring, yet it was so simple at the same time.
  7. I'll pick you up after you finish work.
  8. Either we visit France or we visit Germany next summer. 

Answers:

  1. even though - subordinating conjunction
  2. as - subordinating conjunction
  3. and - simple conjunction
  4. both ... and - paired conjunction
  5. but - simple conjunction
  6. so - coordinating conjunction
  7. unless - subordinating conjunction
  8. yet - coordinating conjunction
  9. after - subordinating conjunction
  10. either ... or - paired conjunction