What is a conjunction?
A conjunction is a connecting word used to join words, phrases, sentences, and clauses. Conjunctions are often single words (and, but, because). In some cases, they can also be phrases (in any case). The two main types of conjunctions are subordinating and coordinating. There are also correlative conjunctions.
What is a subordinating conjunction?
A subordinating conjunction connects a dependent clause to an independent clause. A clause is any group of words that contains both a subject and a verb. Independent clauses stand on their own as complete sentences. Dependent clauses can’t stand on their own; they depend on an independent clause to form a complete sentence.
Subordinating conjunctions attach to dependent clauses. They can be at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence. Examples include after, although, because, and whether.
When the dependent clause (with a subordinating conjunction) comes at the beginning of a sentence, use a comma between the dependent clause and the independent clause. For example: “Whether or not it rains, I’m going to the soccer game.” Here, the dependent clause (Whether or not it rains) comes first, and a comma separates it from the independent clause (I’m going to the soccer game.).
If the independent clause comes first, you don’t need to use a comma, as in “I’m going to the soccer game whether or not it rains.” In this case, the independent clause (I’m going to the soccer game) comes first, and so the sentence doesn’t need a comma.
What is a coordinating conjunction?
Coordinating conjunctions join words, phrases, and independent clauses. An easy way to remember the full list of coordinating conjunctions is the mnemonic device: FANBOYS, which means for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. The coordinating conjunctions and, or, and but are most commonly used. They’re often essential for forming complete sentences because they balance the different parts of that sentence.
Each coordinating conjunction has its own common functions.
Yet and but often compare, contrast, or modify ideas. For example: “I want to go to the party, but I have a lot of work to finish tonight.”
For links a statement with an explanation, as in “He left early for he was dreadfully tired.”
The word or usually presents many options or possibilities. Consider this example: “Do you want an apple or an orange?”
The coordinating conjunction and has a few diverse functions. It can show a sequence of events or a cause-and-effect relationship. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck uses and to compare two ideas that reflect upon one another: “There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue.” The two clauses have the same structure, and the conjunction creates balance.
Series and complex clauses
Coordinating conjunctions can also link three or more elements to form a series, e.g., “pencils, paper, erasers, and notebooks.” You should use commas to separate individual items in a series. But, when you repeat the conjunction within a simple series, commas aren’t usually necessary. For example: “Bring sandwiches and drinks and cups to the picnic.”
Commas are useful when the sentence is more complex, too. In The Two Towers, J. R. R. Tolkien uses nor to connect a series of clauses using commas: “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory.”
When two independent clauses are easy to differentiate, it’s okay to use conjunctions with or without commas. For example: “John studied all night but he didn’t pass the test.” Both clauses could stand alone as short and complete sentences.
What is a correlative conjunction?
Correlative conjunctions are two conjunctions that function together. These include either/or, neither/nor, both/and, and not only/but. A good example of a correlative conjunction is this line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”
In everyday speech, people sometimes choose to leave out one of a given pair of correlative conjunctions. For example, when asked which movie you’d like to watch, you might say, “I could see either.” Here, the full sentence is implied to be “I could see either this movie or that movie.” The listener will understand without the rest of the sentence though.