Conjunctions are a part of speech that you use every day in your writing, but you just might not know that they're called that. So in today's article, we're going to explore this grammatical concept and find out what conjunctions are and how to use them correctly.
In short, conjunctions are words that link words, phrases, or clauses together to make our sentences more seamless, more elegant, and more easily understood.
As I mentioned in the introduction, conjunctions are words that connect parts of speech together. Without them, our writing would be quite repetitive, and our sentences repetitive. Take the following sentences, for example:
Jessica went to the store because she needed a new backpack. But there were none left so she tried another store.
If it weren't for conjunctions, the above sentences wouldn't be possible. Instead, you'd have to say something like this:
Jessica went to the store. She needed a new backpack. There were none left. She tried another store.
I'm sure you'll agree that it sounds very clunky and a little unclear. Thankfully, the conjunctions 'because,' 'but,' and 'so' make it possible to form a much higher-quality sentence.
In the above example, the conjunctions join together sentences. But they can also join together single words. For example:
All we did was laugh and talk all day.
They can also join together two phrases, such as:
He is an old but very loyal dog.
Or two clauses, like such:
I went to work although I wasn't feeling great.
Looking outside of the context of grammar, the word 'conjunction' refers to the act of conjoining, or in other words, "join things together for a common purpose." And that's exactly what conjunctions do. Do they join things together? Absolutely - they bring together two words, phrases, or clauses. Their common purpose? Making your writing clearer, more concise, and just better overall.
The word 'conjunction' comes from the Latin coniunctionem which is the noun for the past-participle of coniugare "to join together."
So you see, there's no mistaking it: conjunctions bring us together! Well, I mean, they bring parts of speech together.
There are many, many conjunctions in the English language. Far too many to list here. But I'm going to list a few anyway, just to give you an idea of what these little words look like. Plus, later on, when we're looking at specific types of conjunctions, I'll list some more. Here are some common ones:
Right, now that you're familiar with the concept of conjunctions and what their role in a sentence is, let's look at the different types that exist. There are only three, so there aren't tons for you to remember. The three types are:
Let's dive a little deeper into each type.
Coordinating conjunctions join together two same parts of speech together: a verb with a verb, a noun with a noun, and so on. They can also connect two phrases or independent clauses together (that's two parts of a sentence that could stand alone and still make sense).
The seven coordinating conjunctions can easily be remembered using the famous acronym FANBOY:
For, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
Let's take a look at some examples of sentences that use coordinating conjunctions. We'll start with examples of a coordinating conjunction that connects two adjectives:
He just adopted a black and white cat.
I feel excited yet nervous.
Is it warm or cold outside?
Now some examples that show a coordinating conjunction connecting two verbs:
He's unsure whether to take the job or look for something else.
They want to help but they don't know how.
I missed the bus so I'll be a little late.
These connect two nouns:
She said she likes most flowers but not tulips.
I bought a new dress and shoes for the gala.
Should we get margherita or pepperoni?
He backed away from the bear, carefully but assuredly.
I'm starting to dislike him more and more.
The hand shake was gentle yet confident.
Subordinating conjunctions connect a dependent clause to an independent clause. What are those, you ask? Great question! A dependent clause cannot stand alone as it does not convey a complete thought. A dependent clause, on the other hand, does make sense on its own. Both types of clauses have a subject and a verb, so they make grammatical sense, but the independent clause doesn't mean much without its independent clause.
Here's a list of common subordinating conjunctions:
And here are some examples of sentences where a subordinating conjunction connects an independent clause to a dependent clause:
We cannot onboard you until you provide the names of three references.
The company will provide a personal driver whenever you need it.
Although she was nervous, she passed the exam with flying colors.
I'll start pouring drinks while you set the table.
As he approached the red light, he started to slow down.
As you can see from the last example, a conjunction doesn't have to be in the middle of the sentence. It can also be placed at the beginning and still play the role of connecting the two clauses.
Correlative conjunctions work together as a team. They are inseparable, as in if you use one, you also use the other. They're generally used to present two options or show how two words or phrases relate to each other.
Here are some common correlative conjunctions:
Let's look at some examples of correlative conjunctions in a sentence. You'll see them underlined.
I feel both depeleted and elated.
Would you rather live here or emigrate to a warmer country?
He is not only talented, but also very ambitious.
You can either go now or be late.
She doesn't have as many books as me.
Hopefully, you now feel quite confident about your understanding of conjunctions: what they are, what they look like, and how to use them. Now I'm going to outline some important rules around their usage that you might find useful.
When using conjunctions, you want to make sure that the words they are joining have the same structure. For example, with verbs, that means using the same tense for both verbs. Look at the following examples of non-parallel and parallel structures:
They invited me to submit my application and expressing my interest. ❌
They invited me to submit my application and express my interest. ✅
Those are examples of parallel and non-parallel structures in the verbs. In the first sentence, the first verb is in the present indefinite tense and the second one is the present continuous. Because they are connected by a conjunction, these two verbs must be in the same tense.
The same goes for other parts of speech, like adverbs, for example:
He moves swiftly and diligent. ❌
He moves swiftly and diligently. ✅
Many of us were taught in school that you should never begin a sentence with a conjunction. It turns out that's a bit of a myth. Sure, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it, and you should do it sparingly, but that doesn't mean you should never do it.
Deciding to start a sentence with a conjunction is a matter of style. Some people like it and others don't. But it is allowed! It's also a matter of the impact you want to make. Starting a sentence with conjunction does have a somewhat dramatic effect. Look at the following example:
She said she was sorry. Yet, she did it again the next day.
Using a full stop after "sorry" and start the new sentence with "yet" adds emphasis to the disappointment of the writer. You could just as well write:
She said she was sorry, yet, she did it again the next day.
Both sentences are correct.
Just bear in mind that some conjunctions need a bit of context, so if you choose to start a sentence with them, make sure the sentence is complete. For example, you can't say:
Before I went to the party.
Although the sentence appears to be grammatical, it doesn't make any sense. What did you do before you went to the party? You might say, for example:
Before I went to the party, I took a shower.
There's one exception, and that's if you're answering a question. For instance, someone might have asked you, "When did you shower?" and then you might answer, "Before I went to the party."
The coordinating conjunctions 'and' and 'or' can also be used to join the last two words in a series of three or more things. For example:
Conjunctions help make your sentences more concise, clearer, and more precise.
Would you like vanilla, chocolate, or mint choc chip flavor?
Note that when using 'and' and 'or' this way, you have a choice as to whether or not to precede the conjunction with a comma. If you do, this is called the "Oxford Comma." There is much debate around this famous comma. Some swear by it, and others avoid it. It's a matter of style and personal preference. It tends to be quite popular in the United States.
You can absolutely use different types of conjunctions in the same sentence. The main thing is to make sure you're using them properly. As long as you do that, then go crazy! Conjunctions help make sentences better, so don't hesitate to mix and match. Here's an example of a sentence that uses all three types of conjunction:
Neither me nor my wife saw what happened, but the police still questioned us as we were present on the scene.
So there you have it. Conjunctions are nifty little words that come in very handy when you want to join together other parts of a sentence. They're fairly straightforward to use, and as long as you remember the rules outlined above, you're good to go.
If you'd like to learn about more grammar concepts, check out our Grammar Book.