The Definition of 'Conjunct' in Grammar

Dogs chasing cat
"The dogs barked furiously, and the cat scampered up the tree".

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In English grammar, a conjunct, from the Latin, "join together," is a word, phrase, or clause linked to another word, phrase, or clause through coordination. For instance, two clauses connected by and ("The clown laughed and the child cried") are conjuncts. It may also called a conjoin.

The term conjunct can also refer to an adverbial(such as therefore, however, namely) that indicates the relationship in meaning between two independent clauses. The more traditional term for this kind of adverbial is conjunctive adverb.

Examples (Definition #1)

  • George and Martha dined alone at Mount Vernon.
  • The back of my head and the head of the bat collided.
  • The dogs barked furiously, and the cat scampered up the tree.

"Take, for instance, the following sentences from 'The Revolutionist,' [one] of [Ernest] Hemingway's short stories [from In Our Time]:

He was very shy and quite young and the train men passed him on from one crew to another. He had no money, and they fed him behind the counter in railway eating houses.​​ (Jonathan Cape edn, p. 302)

Even in the second sentence, the two clauses which form the conjunct are linked by 'and,' and not, as one might expect in such a discourse context, by 'so' or 'but.' The suppression of complex connectivity in this way seems to have baffled some critics, with comments on the famous Hemingway 'and' ranging from the vague to the nonsensical." (Paul Simpson, Language, Ideology and Point of View. Routledge, 1993)

Coordinate Structure Constraint

"Although a wide variety of structures can be conjoined, not all coordinations are acceptable. One of the first generalizations regarding coordination is Ross's Coordinate Structure Constraint (1967). This constraint states that coordination does not allow for asymmetrical constructions. For example, the sentence This is the man whom Kim likes and Sandy hates Pat is unacceptable, because only the first conjunct is relativized. The sentence This is the man whom Kim likes and Sandy hates is acceptable, because both conjuncts are relativized. . . .

"Linguists are further concerned with which material is allowed as a conjunct in a coordinate construction. The second example showed conjoined sentences, but coordination is also possible for noun phrases as in the apples and the pears, verb phrases like run fast or jump high and adjectival phrases such as rich and very famous, etc. Both sentences and phrases intuitively form meaningful units within a sentence, called constituents. Subject and verb do not form a constituent in some frameworks of generative grammar. However, they can occur together as a conjunct in the sentence Kim bought, and Sandy sold, three paintings yesterday." (Petra Hendriks, "Coordination." Encyclopedia of Linguistics, ed. by Philipp Strazny. Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005)

Collective and Average Property Interpretations

"Consider sentences such as these:

The American family used less water this year than last year.
The small businessperson in Edmonton paid nearly $30 million in taxes but only made $43,000 in profits last year.

The former sentence is ambiguous between the collective and average property interpretations. It could be true that the average American family used less water this year than last while the collective American family used more (due to more families); conversely, it could be true that the average family used more but the collective family used less. As to the latter sentence, which is admittedly somewhat strange (but might be used to further the political interests of Edmonton businesspeople), our world [knowledge] tells us that the first conjunct of the VP must be interpreted as a collective property, since certainly the average businessperson, even in wealthy Edmonton, does not pay $30 million in taxes; but our world knowledge also tells us that the second of the VP conjunctions is to be given an average property interpretation." (Manfred Krifka et al., "Genericity: An Introduction." The Generic Book, ed. by Gregory N. Carlson and Francis Jeffry Pelletier. The University of Chicago Press, 1995)

Interpreting "Naturally" and "Accidentally" Coordinated Noun Phrases

"[Bernhard] Wälchli ([Co-compounds and Natural Coordination] 2005) discussed two types of coordination: natural and accidental. Natural coordination refers to cases where two conjuncts are 'semantically' closely related (e.g. mum and dad, boys and girls) and are expected to co-occur. On the other hand, accidental coordination refers to cases where the two conjuncts are distant from each other (e.g. boys and chairs, apples and three babies) and are not expected to co-occur. If the two NPs form natural coordination, they tend to be interpreted as a whole. But, if they are accidentally put together, they are interpreted independently." (Jieun Kiaer, Pragmatic Syntax. Bloomsbury, 2014)

Declaratives + Interrogatives

"Interestingly, an interrogative main clause can be co-ordinated with a declarative main clause, as we see from sentences like (50) below:

(50) [I am feeling thirsty], but [ should I save my last Coke till later]?

In (50) we have two (bracketed) main clauses joined together by the co-ordinating conjunction but. The second (italicised) conjunct should I save my last Coke till later? is an interrogative CP [complementiser phrase] containing an inverted auxiliary in the head C position of CP. Given the traditional assumption that only constituents which belong to the same category can be co-ordinated, it follows that the first conjunct I am feeling thirsty must also be a CP; and since it contains no overt complementiser, it must be headed by a null complementiser . . .." (Andrew Radford, An Introduction to English Sentence Structure. Cambridge University Press, 2009)

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Nordquist, Richard. "The Definition of 'Conjunct' in Grammar." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). The Definition of 'Conjunct' in Grammar. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "The Definition of 'Conjunct' in Grammar." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).