In English, we classify words by their parts of speech. Each part of speech plays a crucial role in speaking and writing. This lesson is about the three types of conjunctions and their use in writing.

Connections

Have you ever thought about all the connections in everyday life? On a social level, we use social media, newsletters, text messages, and blogs to connect with people and organizations that interest us. On a mechanical level, structures we use are connected by thread, nails, brackets, cement, solder, glue, and tape. It makes sense, then, that our language reflects life and has a need for connections. In English, these connections are called conjunctions. Conjunctions are words used to connect other words, phrases, and clauses. There are three types of conjunctions: coordinating, correlative, and subordinating.

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conjunctions

Coordinating Conjunctions

There are seven coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. The acronym FANBOYS can help you remember this list.

We use coordinating conjunctions to connect two or more words, phrases, or clauses that are equal or parallel. What makes two words or groups of words parallel when we are talking about language? Think about the word coordinating. When we coordinate clothing or décor, we make it match in color and style. When we coordinate words, we make them match in structure and function. Here are a few examples.

Not parallel: run and pizza – run is a verb, pizza is a noun

Parallel: run and whistle – both are verbs

Not parallel: eating pizza and she walked home – eating pizza is a verb phrase, she walked home is an independent clause

Parallel: eating pizza and walking home – both are verb phrases

Correlative Conjunctions

If you look at the word correlative, you can see the word relate. Like coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions connect parallel words, phrases, and clauses. Correlative conjunctions also come in pairs. There are several pairs of correlative conjunctions: both/and, not only/but also, either/or, neither/nor, whether/or. When correlative conjunctions are used, one comes before each word or group of words that is being connected.

  • Both Lisa and Susan brought dessert to the church dinner.
  • Either eat your spinach or clear your plate.

Subordinating Conjunctions

The last type of conjunction, subordinating conjunctions, is different from the other two types of conjunctions in a few important ways.

1. Subordinating conjunctions are not used to connect words or phrases; they are only used to connect clauses.

2. Subordinating conjunctions are not used to connect parallel clauses.

3. Subordinating conjunctions are harder to identify because there are many of them.

A subordinating conjunction is used at the beginning of a subordinate, or dependent, clause and connects it to an independent clause.

Remember, the difference in dependent and independent clauses is that an independent clause expresses a complete thought, while a dependent clause does not express a complete thought and begins with a subordinating conjunction.

  • Since you finished your spinach, you may have dessert.

The subordinating conjunction ”since” begins the dependent clause ”since you finished your spinach” and connects it to the independent clause ”you may have dessert.”

subordinating conjunctions

Look at the picture for some more examples of subordinating conjunctions.

Practice Finding Conjunctions

Once you stop and consider it, you might be surprised at how often you use conjunctions. Let’s consider the following story. Think about conjunctions while you read.

Lisa and Susan were debating if they should bake chocolate cake or apple pie for dessert. While Lisa wanted cake, Susan preferred pie. Neither Lisa nor Susan wanted to bake cookies, even though Chad wanted cookies. Before Lisa and Susan could object, Chad baked both cookies and pie. Lisa and Susan were surprised yet pleased at this turn of events.

This story contains eleven conjunctions (counting correlative pairs as one conjunction for this exercise). How many did you find? Now look at the picture with the conjunctions highlighted. Coordinating conjunctions are in red, correlative conjunction pairs are in green, and subordinating conjunctions are in blue.


conjunction story


The coordinating conjunctions connect parallel words, phrases, or clauses:

  • Lisa and Susan (this one appears three times in the story)
  • chocolate cake or apple pie
  • surprised yet pleased

The correlative conjunctions also connect parallel words, phrases, or clauses.

  • neither Lisa nor Susan
  • both cookies and pie

The subordinating conjunctions introduce dependent clauses.

  • if they should bake chocolate cake or apple pie for dessert
  • while Lisa wanted cake
  • even though Chad wanted cookies
  • before Lisa and Susan could object

Lesson Summary

Conjunctions are words that connect. Coordinating and correlative conjunctions connect parallel words, phrases, and clauses. Subordinating conjunctions connect dependent clauses to independent clauses. All three types of conjunctions are necessary for speaking and writing English.