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Conjunctions

Written by tutor Jonathan E.

Since childhood, we’ve all been trained to use specific words to make clear that two (or more) ideas are connected in some way. Even toddlers, in their nonstop demands for “soda AND candy AND fast food AND toys,” emphasize the relationship among different things (in this case, that they are all desired items). Words like “and” represent the part of speech known as conjunctions, words that connect (conjoin) parts of a sentence.

Let’s discuss the different types of conjunctions and how they’re used:

Coordinating Conjunctions

and, or, but, for, yet, nor, so

Coordinating conjunctions are the most common of the various conjunction types, and they are used to connect words, phrases, and clauses. As demonstrated by the sentence you just read, you may add a comma when a conjunction connects two independent clauses (clauses that can stand alone as complete sentences). Using a comma is optional, however, except when using “but” to express contrast. One helpful tip is to add a comma when, if you were say the sentence out loud, you would naturally pause after the first independent clause. Commas are also optional when using “and” to list elements in a series, such as “milk, flour, and sugar.”

One way to remember the coordinating conjunctions is with the acronym FANBOYS: For-And-Nor-But-Or-Yet-So.

Now that we can recognize the coordinating conjunctions, let us see how each of them is used, starting with the three most common ones:

And

The conjunction “and” is used to:

Show that two or more ideas share a particular quality: “Mark and Dennis are both award-winning writers.”
Show that two or more ideas take place in chronological order: “I sent in my job applications and waited to hear back from the employer.”
Show that there is a conditional relationship between two clauses: “Shout out the answer again and you’ll get detention.”

But

The conjunction “but” is used to:

Show that there is a contrast between two clauses or unexpected outcome in relation to the first clause: “We’ve been engaged for five years, but we’re still not ready to tie the knot.”
Show using affirmative language what an earlier clause showed in a negative way (sometimes replaced by “on the contrary” or “rather”): “He never fooled his customers, but dealt with them fairly and honestly.”
Show that there is an exception particular to one or more objects (sometimes replaced with “with the exception of”): “Everybody but Joe and Marsha can speak more than one language.”

Or

The conjunction “or” is used to:

Show that only one of two possibilities can be achieved: “You can work with a partner on this project or you can work independently.”
Show that the first clause may not be entirely true: “Young adulthood represented the best years of my life, or so it seemed at the time.”
Show that there is an alternative using negation (sometimes replaced by “or else”): “They must support his political platform or they wouldn’t have voted for him”

The other coordinating conjunctions aren’t as commonly used, but are still important to know:

Nor

The conjunction “nor” is used to:

Show that both of two given ideas do not apply (paired with “neither”): “Entirely average in looks, Devin is neither stunning nor unattractive.”
Show that both of two given ideas do not apply (not paired with “neither”): “That isn’t what I asked you to do, nor is it allowed by company policy.”

Yet

The conjunction “yet” is used to:

Show that there is a subtle contrast between two ideas (not as strong as “but”): “The customer loudly complained about the quality of the food yet ate the entire meal.”

For

The conjunction “for” is used to:

Show that there is a cause and effect relationship between two clauses (sometimes replaced by “because” or “since”): “His chances of getting the internship are good, for his father owns the company.”

So

The conjunction “so” is used to:

Show that the second clause results from what took place in the first (similar usage to “therefore”): “Tina has never done well in front of large audiences, so it is no surprise that she stumbled through her speech.”

Those are the coordinating conjunctions! Let’s look at the second type:

Subordinating Conjunctions

A: after, although, as, as if, as long as, as though

B: because, before

E: even if, even though

I: if, if only, in order that

N: now that

O: once

R: rather than

S: since, so that

T: than, that, though, till

U: unless, until

W: when, whenever, where, whereas, wherever, while

Subordinating conjunctions begin a subordinate (also called dependent) clause and establish the relationship between the subordinate clause and the rest of the sentence. This means that the clause turns into something that depends on the rest of the sentence for its meaning.

Here are some examples from the table of common subordinating conjunctions above:

The child did the math problems as though he’d studied the subject for years.
Because Ronald is so passionate about music, he refused to give up his dream of becoming a rock star.
Unless we leave right now, we’ll be late to the graphic design seminar.

You’re almost a conjunctions wizard! There is one more type to learn, however:

Correlative Conjunctions

both...and...
not only... but also...
not... but...
either... or...
neither... nor...
whether... or...
as... as...

Correlative conjunctions combine with other words to join various sentence elements that are parallel in nature. This means that the two elements are equal.

Here are some examples from the table of correlative conjunctions above:

Linda earned the “Most Valuable Player” trophy not only in soccer but also in basketball.
Whether you win or lose, just be happy that you tried your best.
In this line of work, neither a completely honest person nor a completely dishonest person will find much success.

And with that, you’ve seen all the conjunction types! Now test your knowledge of conjunctions with the following short quiz:

Conjunction Quiz

What does the “A” in “F-A-N-B-O-Y-S” stand for?

A. Although
B. As
C. And
The correct answer here would be C.

"And" is a coordinating conjunction.

With coordinating conjunctions, using a comma to link two clauses is optional except when using:

A. “but” to show contrast
B. “yet” to show contrast
C. “or” to show that only one of two possibilities can be achieved
The correct answer here would be A.

Neither Helen ________ Chris is able to open the lock.

A. or
B. nor
C. and
The correct answer here would be B.

Neither...nor is a commonly used pair of correlative conjunctions.

Both Jack ________ Nina are excellent tennis players.

A. also
B. or
C. and
The correct answer here would be C.

Both...and is also a commonly used pair of correlative conjunctions.

Rich took to the stage ________ his entire life had led to this very moment.

A. as though
B. even though
C. as long as
The correct answer here would be A.
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