Conjunction Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A conjunction is the part of speech (or word class) that serves to connect words, phrases, clauses, or sentences.

The common conjunctions — and, but, for, or, nor, yet, and so — join the elements of a coordinate structure.

A sentence style that employs many coordinate conjunctions is called polysyndeton. A sentence style that omits conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses is called asyndeton.

In contrast to coordinating conjunctions, which connect words, phrases, and clauses of equal rank, subordinating conjunctions connect clauses of unequal rank.

From the Greek, "joining"

Examples and Observations

  • "I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering."
    (Steven Wright)
  • "There was a time when a fool and his money were soon parted, but now it happens to everybody."
    (Attributed to Adlai E. Stevenson)
  • "I was never good at sports. For a while I played Little League baseball, but I had very little interaction with the actual ball. I heard a lot of yelling about the ball, and I occasionally sensed that something — which I assumed was the ball — had just whizzed past me. But I almost never had any direct personal contact with the ball, which turns out to be crucial to succeeding in many athletic endeavors."
    (Dave Barry, Live Right and Find Happiness. Penguin, 2015)
  • "As it happens I am in Death Valley, in a room at the Enterprise Motel and Trailer Park, and it is July, and it is hot. In fact it is 119 degrees. I cannot seem to make the air conditioner work, but there is a small refrigerator, and I can wrap ice cubes in a towel and hold them against the small of my back."
    (Joan Didion, "On Morality." Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968)
  • "There's a dark side to each and every human soul. We wish we were Obi-Wan Kenobi, and for the most part we are, but there's a little Darth Vadar in all of us."
    (Chris Stevens, Northern Exposure)
  • "I have just been refining the room in which I sit, yet I sometimes doubt that a writer should refine or improve his workroom by so much as a dictionary: one thing leads to another and the first thing you know he has a stuffed chair and is fast asleep in it."
    (E.B. White, "Progress and Change," 1939)
  • "I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead."
    (Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 1934)

Paired Conjunctions ( Correlatives)

"A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing." (Attributed to George Bernard Shaw)

"I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy." (Attributed to Marie Curie)

Polysyndeton in Hemingway

"Maybe she would pretend that I was her boy that was killed and we would go in the front door and the porter would take off his cap and I would stop at the concierge's desk and ask for the key and she would stand by the elevator and it would go up very slowly clicking at all the floors and then our floor and the boy would open the door and stand there and she would step out and we would walk down the hall and I would put the key in the door and open it and go in and then take down the telephone and ask them to send a bottle of capri bianca in a silver bucket full of ice and you would hear the ice against the pail coming down the corridor and the boy would knock and I would say leave it outside the door please." (Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms.

Scribner's, 1929)

"[T]he Hemingway sentence is what makes Hemingway. It's not the bullfights or the safaris or the wars. it's a clear, direct, and vigorous sentence. It's the simple connective — the word 'and' that strings together the segments of a long Hemingway sentence. The word 'and' is more important to Hemingway than Africa or Paris." (Don DeLillo, interview with David Remnick in "Exile on Main Street: Don DeLillo's Undisclosed Underworld." Conversations With Don DeLillo, ed. by Thomas DePietro. University Press of Mississippi, 2005)

Starting Sentences With And and But

William Forrester: Paragraph three starts with a conjunction, "and." You should never start a sentence with a conjunction.
Jamal Wallace: Sure you can.
William Forrester: No, it's a firm rule.
Jamal Wallace: No, it was a firm rule.

Sometimes using a conjunction at the start of a sentence makes it stand out. And that may be what the writer's trying to do.
William Forrester: And what is the risk?
Jamal Wallace: Well the risk is doing it too much. It's a distraction. And it could give your piece a run-on feeling. But for the most part, the rule on using "and" or "but" at the start of a sentence is pretty shaky, even though it's still taught by too many professors. Some of the best writers have ignored that rule for years, including you.

(Sean Connery and Rob Brown in Finding Forrester, 2000)

Conjunctions and Style

"It is the good or bad Use of Conjunction, that constitutes the Essence of a good or bad Stile. They render the Discourse more smooth and fluent. They are the helpmates of Reason in arguing, relating and putting the other Parts of Speech in due order." (Daniel Duncan, A New English Grammar, 1731)

Coleridge on Connectives

"A close reasoner and a good writer in general may be known by his pertinent use of connectives. ... In your modern books, for the most part, the sentences in a page have the same connection with each other that marbles have with a bag; they touch without adhering." (Samuel T. Coleridge, Table Talk, May 15, 1833)

Walter Kaufman on Conjunctions

"A conjunction is the luxurious device of a jubilant reason which, no longer content to create another world, insists on finding its sovereign pleasure in the manipulation of its creatures.

"The world of reason is poor compared to the world of sense — until or, but, if, because, when, and, unless populate it with endless possibilities." (Walter Kaufmann, Critique of Religion and Philosophy.

Harper & Row, 1958)

The Lighter Side of Conjunctions: Conjunction Junction

Backup singers: Conjunction Junction, what's your function?
Lead singer: Hookin' up words and phrases and clauses.
Backup singers: Conjunction Junction, how's that function?
Lead singer: I've got three favorite cars that get most of my job done.
Backup singers: Conjunction Junction, what's their function?
Lead singer: I got and, but, and or. They'll get you pretty far.
("Conjunction Junction," Schoolhouse Rock, 1973)

Pronunciation: cun-JUNK-shun

Also Known As: connective

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Nordquist, Richard. "Conjunction Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Oct. 2, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, October 2). Conjunction Definition and Examples. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Conjunction Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 23, 2018).