Conjunctions

by Stacie Heaps
Professional Writer and Editor

Conjunctions are words that connect two sentences, clauses, phrases, or words. They are most often used to join parts of a sentence.

Coordinate Conjunctions

Coordinate conjunctions are used to combine parts of a sentence that are equal. The coordinate conjunctions are and, but, or, nor, so, yet, and for. These words can be used to connect individual words or phrases in a sentence, as well as to connect independent clauses.

Compound elements in a sentence are equal words or phrases used together and joined by a conjunction. Such words or phrases can be made up of subjects, predicates, objects, modifiers, or prepositional phrases.

A compound subject is a sentence subject made up of two or more simple subjects.

Examples:

Cookies and donuts were served at the meeting.
Jared and Janet arrived late.
Thunder and lightning are predicted.

Verbs in a compound predicate (a predicate with two or more verbs that share the same subject) are also joined by conjunctions. In the examples below, two verbs are joined by and.

Examples:

Justin calls and writes every day.
Dawna smiles and laughs a lot..
Lindsay coordinates and facilitates all the meetings.

Do not use a comma to separate the verbs in such compound predicates, as they do not have two subjects and are therefore not independent clauses.

Not:

Jerry frets, and worries too much.
Mandy runs, and lifts weights every day.

But:

Jerry frets and worries too much.
Mandy runs and lifts weights every day.

Compound objects, modifiers, and prepositional phrases can also be joined by conjunctions:

Examples:

They bought books and other supplies at the store.
I met John and Mike yesterday.

Doug felt tired but content after the long day.
She wore red and white shoes.

I believe he went up the stairs or down the hall.
Jan walked down the street and around the corner.

A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. An independent clause is a clause that contains a subject and a predicate and functions as a complete sentence on its own. A comma should not be used after an independent clause if a dependent clause follows it.

Not:

We went to the store yesterday, and bought some supplies.
Mark will go to the movies, or buy a DVD.
They talked yesterday about the decision, and decided to cancel the meeting.
Jen ignored the call, but finished her project.

But:

We went to the store yesterday and bought some supplies.
Mark will go to the movies or buy a DVD.
They talked yesterday about the decision and decided to cancel the meeting.
Jen ignored the call and finished her project.

Two independent clauses can be joined in a single sentence with a coordinating conjunction. These sentences, known as compound sentences, usually require a comma before the conjunction joining the two independent clauses.

Examples:

We took the exam yesterday afternoon, and then we had a party afterwards to celebrate.

He slept ten hours, yet he was still tired.
Were you able to attend the meeting, or did you have to miss it?
Dana will arrive tomorrow, so he will see her then.
Luke arrived very early, for he did not want to risk missing his plane.

If the two independent clauses being joined together are very short, the comma can sometimes be omitted.

Examples:

Katie talked and Linda listened.
John ran but Jane walked.
Did they cry or were they happy?
They met and Fred was very impressed. (Some writers would use a comma to separate these clauses.)

Do not omit the comma if it might cause misreading, however.

Examples:

Don tripped, or he could have won.

Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions are a type of coordinate conjunction that is made up of pairs. Included in this group are either/or, neither/nor, not only/but also, and both/and. When using correlative conjunctions, make sure to use parallel structure. (For a more in-depth discussion on parallel structure, see the article entitled “Parallelism.”) To achieve parallel structure, the sentence parts joined by the correlative conjunctions must be equal and balanced. For example, if a noun follows the first word in the pair, then a noun must follow the second word in the pair, or if an independent clause follows the first word in the pair, then an independent clause must follow the second word in the pair, as well.

Examples:

He prefers either water or diet soda.
Jamie likes both spinach and beets.
Mary reads not only biographies but also historical fictions.
They write neither fast nor well.
Either go to school, or pursue other vocational training.
Not only should you go to college, but you should also do your very best.

Subordinate Conjunctions

Complex sentences contain an independent clause and at least one subordinate clause. Subordinate clauses cannot form a sentence on their own; they are dependent on an independent clause.

A subordinate clause is connected to a main clause by a subordinate conjunction. Following is a list of the most common subordinate conjunctions:

after before unless
although if until
as since when
because than while

The following are examples of sentences that contain subordinate clauses.

Examples:

We will go to the store after dinner has been served.
I won’t be able to attend unless I finish this report tonight.

Subordinate clauses often come at the end of the sentence, but they can also come at the beginning of the sentence. When a subordinate clause does come first, it should be followed by a comma.

Examples:

Because he is kind, he did not reprimand them for their foolishness.
Although it is late, we are going to the movies.

The subordinate conjunction than, however, cannot begin a sentence, as such a sentence would not make sense. Instead, than introduces a subordinate clause that is the second part of a comparison.

Examples:

I’m sure that you can accomplish more than you think.
Playing is better than watching the game any day.

In some cases, the verb in the subordinate clause is understood, and it does not have to be written.

Examples:

I eat pasta more than (I eat) anything else.
Janet has read that book more than (she has read) any other.

When the subordinate clause contains a personal pronoun, be careful to use the correct form of the pronoun. When the clause could end with a verb, but the verb is omitted, then the subject form of the pronoun should be used.

Examples:

Derek likes to talk more than I (like to talk).
I think Dan weighs less than he (weighs).

If, on the other hand, using a verb at the end of the clause would not be appropriate, then the object form of the personal pronoun is used.

Examples:

Jonathan talks to him more than (he talks to) me.
Dennis sees Jack less often than (he sees) her.

For more information about this topic, see the article entitled “Personal Pronouns.”

As is demonstrated above, in some cases both the subject and the verb can be omitted because they are understood in the context of the sentence.

Examples:

Jonathan talks to him more than me.
Dennis sees Jack less often than her.

When both the subject and the verb are omitted, it is especially important to make sure that the correct pronoun is used so that the meaning of the sentence is correct. Notice the difference between the meaning of these two sentences:

Examples:

Wendy seems to understand Nathan better than I.
Wendy seems to understand Nathan better than me.

If you are unsure of which pronoun form to use, simply identify the understood subject or object and verb, and write the appropriate pronoun.

Examples:

Wendy understands Nathan better than I understand him.
Wendy understands Nathan better than she understands me.

Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctive adverbs (adverbs that modify a clause or sentence and connect it to the preceding clause or sentence) describe the relationship between the ideas the clauses or sentences express.

Examples:

The line we had to wait in was atrocious; nevertheless, the food was probably the best I have ever tasted.
Admittedly, you make a good point; indeed, you may have persuaded me to change my mind.
It is a beautiful day; moreover, there is not a cloud in the sky.

A list of words that can be used as conjunctive adverbs follows.

accordingly also anyway
besides certainly consequently
finally further furthermore
hence however incidentally
indeed instead likewise
meanwhile moreover namely
nevertheless next nonetheless
now otherwise similarly
still then thereafter
therefore thus undoubtedly

Because conjunctive adverbs are often used to relate independent clauses, a semicolon, rather than a comma, should generally be used before them in order to avoid a comma splice.

Not:

The company is attempting a hostile takeover, furthermore, they plan to lay off hundreds of employees.
She applied for and received the promotion, therefore, she will get a corresponding pay increase.

But:

The company is attempting a hostile takeover; furthermore, they plan to lay off hundreds of employees.
She applied for and received the promotion; therefore, she will get a corresponding pay increase.

In addition, a comma generally, though not always, follows the adverb and sets off the conjunctive adverb from the rest of the clause.

Examples:

We decided not to go to Florida this year; instead, we will go to Hawaii.
I drove to work on my first day; thereafter, I used public transit.

The comma is often omitted, however, with short, single-syllable conjunctive adverbs.

Examples:

The storm was completely unexpected; thus we were not prepared when the power went out.
First we went to the department stores; then we checked the supermarkets.

In addition, the comma is often omitted when the conjunctive adverb does not immediately follow the semicolon.

Examples:

Dan was not there for the meeting; he consequently knew nothing about the change.
Jim got a flat tire on the way to work; he was therefore late for his first appointment.

In the two final sets of examples above, the comma would be either optional (for the first two) or unnecessary (for the last two).

As is illustrated above, conjunctive adverbs, unlike coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, can almost always appear in more than one place in a clause. This is a good way to differentiate between conjunctive adverbs and conjunctions.

Examples:

We had intended to arrive on time; however, we got caught in traffic because of a major wreck.
We had intended to arrive on time; we got caught in traffic, however, because of a major wreck.
We had intended to arrive on time; we got caught in traffic because of a major wreck, however.

Beginning Sentences with Conjunctions

Though beginning a sentence with a conjunction has long been frowned on by traditionalists, occasionally beginning a sentence with a conjunction, as long as the conjunction is used correctly, can add variety to the text. Good writers have been doing so for centuries.

Examples:

We just hired him a few weeks ago. But it feels like he has already been with us for a very long time.
Yesterday the movie was all sold out by the time we arrived. And we didn’t want to wait for the next one.

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