Subordination and Coordination: Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on July 12, 2023

If you want to learn more about subordination and coordination, you've come to the right place. This article will teach you everything you need to know about joining two sentences together.

The terms 'subordination' and 'coordination' refer to the act of joining two or more sentences together. Subordination allows you to join a dependent clause to an independent one, while coordination enables you to join two independent clauses.

This article is part of our free online Grammar Book.

Subordination and Coordination

Before we dive in, I want to review a few terms relevant to the topic we're learning about today.

The first one is 'clause.'

  • A clause is a group of words containing a subject and a predicate, meaning it's technically a full sentence.

There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent.

  • An independent clause can stand alone and make complete sense both grammatically and literally.

Here's an example:

I want to learn to speak Spanish.

An independent clause is technically a full sentence in its own right.

Here's an example:

So I take evening classes from 9pm to 11pm. 

The conjunction 'so' at the beginning implies the sentence explains why the writer is taking evening classes. Yet the explanation is missing, meaning the sentence can't stand alone, making it a dependent clause.

Now you're up to date, let's dive in.

What Is Subordination?

Subordination is the act of joining a dependent and an independent clause together. The result will be a complex sentence or compound-complex sentence.

To join these two types of sentences together, you'll use, fittingly, subordinating conjunctions.

The list is quite extensive, but here are some commonly used ones:

  • as
  • until
  • how
  • though
  • since

Here's an example of subordination in action, joining an independent clause to a dependent one (complex sentence):

I've been taking Spanish classes since last year.

'I've been taking Spanish classes' is the independent clause, and 'since last year' is the dependent clause.

  • If you want to, you can place the dependent clause first; just remember that if you do, you must use a comma after the dependent clause, like this:

Since last year, I've been taking Spanish classes.

What we're doing here is subordinating the dependent clause to the independent one, meaning we're creating a hierarchy: the independent clause is more important than the dependent clause.

  • You can also create this kind of hierarchy with two independent clauses by inserting a subordinating conjunction between them.

Let's try it. Imagine you want to join the two following sentences:

I've been taking Spanish classes.
I'm heading to Mexico next month.

Easy! Pick an appropriate conjunction and stick it in the middle:

I've been taking Spanish classes because I'm heading to Mexico next month.

Or, as explained earlier, you can place the clause with the conjunction first, as long as you remember the comma.

Because I'm heading to Mexico next month, I've been taking Spanish classes.

The same concept applies if you want to make compound-complex sentences: two or more independent clauses plus one or more dependent clauses.

My mom told me that she wants to find a new job, but she doesn't know where to start.

"My mom told me that" is our dependent clause. That's right: it doesn't convey a complete thought, so it can't stand alone. That makes it a dependent clause.

"She wants to find a new job" is our independent clause #1. It conveys a complete thought and can stand alone. The same can be said for "she doesn't know where to start," which is our independent clause #2.

"But" is the coordinating conjunction that connects the two independent clauses, as is required in any compound sentence, which brings us to my next point.

What Is Coordination?

Coordination is the act of joining two independent clauses together. As we saw above, an independent clause can stand alone, so the point of joining two is to make a richer sentence or provide additional information.

  • Joining two independent clauses together creates a compound sentence and is called coordination.

You can do this in two ways: join them with a semicolon or with a comma and a coordinating conjunction.

Coordinating conjunctions are best known by their acronym FANBOYS:

  • for
  • and
  • nor
  • but
  • or
  • yet
  • so

Let's look at an example of each method to connect two independent clauses. Say you start off with the two following sentences:

I got a new car. I'm planning to take it on a test run this weekend. 

We'll start with the first method: join them with a semicolon.

I got a new car; I'm planning to take it on a test run this weekend. 

Now the second method:

I got a new car and I'm planning to take it on a test run this weekend.
I got a new car so I'm planning to take it on a test run this weekend.

There are two possibilities based on the appropriate choices of coordinating conjunction for the context. You could use any of the others, and the sentence would be grammatically correct but wouldn't actually make sense.

For example:

I got a new car but I'm planning to take it on a test run this weekend. 

If you use the semicolon method, you can use a conjunctive adverb (also known as a transition word) right after the semicolon and before the second clause. Let's try it using the example of the conjunctive adverb 'in fact':

I got a new car; in fact I'm planning to take it on a test run this weekend. 

Here are some other common conjunctive adverbs:

  • however
  • additionally
  • for example
  • consequently
  • meanwhile

Common Sentence Errors

When using coordination to join two or more independent clauses, there's the risk of committing one of several common sentence errors, which leads you to create run-on sentences.

Here are some common ways this happens:

  • Comma splice: using commas when it's inappropriate.
  • Fused sentence: omitting the punctuation and conjunctions
  • Polysyndeton: using too many conjunctions

One example of a comma splice is when you use a comma instead of a semicolon.

Let's use our previous example of a compound sentence:

I got a new car, in fact I'm planning to take it on a test run this weekend. 

This is a comma splice and grammatical error because we used a comma where a semicolon should have been.

An example of a fused sentence is when you don't use any conjunctions.

For example:

I got a new car I'm planning to take it on a test run this weekend. 

And here's what a polysyndeton might look like:

I got a new car therefore I'm planning to take it on a test run but I don't know if I can because I'm busy.

This sentence would be better split into two sentences or separated by commas and semicolons.

Check out this article to learn more about these types of sentence errors and how to avoid them.

Concluding Thoughts on Subordination and Coordination

That concludes this article on subordinating and coordinating; I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Subordination is connecting a dependent clause to an independent one.
  • Coordination is joining two or more independent clauses together. 
  • Avoid run-on sentences by using the proper punctuation and conjunctions.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like our Grammar Book. It's a free online database full of grammar articles explaining important grammar concepts in a simple and straightforward way. Check it out!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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