What Is a Conjunction?

In the English language, we have a special part of speech that is used for joining items together. A conjunction links two or more phrases, sentences, clauses, or words. While conjunctions can join ideas via combination, they can also be used to contrast two ideas or to show cause-and-effect. Although most English speakers know how to use conjunctions in everyday speech, many would have trouble conjuring up a list of conjunctions. In this article, we describe the types of conjunctions, give examples of common conjunctions, and provide example sentences in which conjunctions are used. You don’t need to memorize all of the conjunctions in order to be proficient at English grammar; but, it can be helpful to understand that conjunctions can take a few unexpected forms.

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

Coordinating Conjunctions

As you may know, you can always connect two separate independent clauses with a semicolon. Of course, you may decide that you’d prefer to use a comma in your sentence. When you join two independent clauses with a comma, you need a coordinating conjunction. Without the coordinating conjunction, you create an error called a comma splice. That occurs when you have two complete sentences separated by only a comma. 

So, anytime you have two independent clauses (which could function alone as complete sentences), you can conjoin them by adding a comma after the first clause and then adding a coordinating conjunction. When you’re joining only two dependent clauses, you don’t need a comma. 

A simple mnemonic, FANBOYS, can help you remember all of the coordinating conjunctions. Note that your choice of coordinating conjunction will convey more information about the relationship between the first and second clause. For example, the word “but” indicates contrast. 

The acronym FANBOYS stands for:

F | For

A | And

N | Nor

B | But

O | Or

Y | Yet

S | So

Correct Examples:

They remembered lunches and dinners. 

She couldn’t stand kale, but she loved artichokes. 

The river overflowed, so we couldn’t take the ferry.

Incorrect Example (comma splice):

She couldn’t stand kale, she loved artichokes. 

Subordinating Conjunctions

Like coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions link two independent clauses. Unlike coordinating conjunctions, the two clauses do not hold equal importance. Instead, you’d use a subordinating conjunction when one group of words is the main clause and the other becomes subordinate. 

Common subordinating conjunctions include:

  • After
  • Although
  • As
  • As if
  • As long as
  • As much as
  • As soon as
  • As though
  • Because
  • Before
  • Even
  • Even if
  • Even though
  • If
  • If only
  • If then
  • If when
  • Inasmuch
  • In order that
  • Just as
  • Lest
  • Now
  • Now since
  • Now that
  • Now when
  • Once
  • Provided
  • Provided that
  • Rather than
  • Since
  • So that
  • Supposing
  • That
  • Though
  • Until
  • Whenever
  • Whereas
  • Wherever
  • Which
  • Who

Correct Examples: 

She took the lead whenever her boss went on vacation. 

They finished building the deck just as winter began. 

It can be tricky to identify a subordinate conjunction, also called a subordinator, because the same word  or group of words can often appear as another part of speech. For instance, the word “until” can also function as a preposition. One way to know that a phrase functions as a subordinating conjunction is to observe that it separates two independent clauses. Ask yourself, with the addition of the conjunction, does one clause become dependent?

Example:

She took the lead; her boss went on vacation. 

She took the lead whenever her boss went on vacation.

In the examples above, the introduction of the word “whenever” has turned the phrase “whenever her boss went on vacation” into a clause that could not stand alone.  

On the other hand, if one of the clauses is already dependent, you have a preposition on your hands. 

Example (preposition):

She took the lead whenever possible.

Because “possible” is not an independent clause, the word “whenever” functions as a preposition in the example above.  

Correlative Conjunctions

Sometimes two conjunctions work together in partnership, pairing two clauses of equal importance. When you see one correlative conjunction used in a sentence, the matching correlative conjunction is very likely to follow.

Here are a few correlative conjunctions to memorize:

  • As / as 
  • Both / and
  • Either / or
  • Hardly / when
  • Neither / nor
  • No sooner / than
  • Not only / but also
  • Whether / or

Correct Examples:

She was neither prudent nor wise.

Not only did the pandemic impact the population in cities, but it also changed things for people in the countryside. 

Incorrect Example:

She was neither prudent or wise.

Conjunctive Adverbs

Sometimes adverbs function the same way a coordinating conjunction might. In the section above on coordinating conjunctions, we included the following sentence as an example for the conjunction “so”:

The river overflowed, so we couldn’t take the ferry.

As you can imagine, there are a number of synonyms that we could use for “so” in that sentence.

The river overflowed; consequently, we couldn’t take the ferry.

The river overflowed; as a result, we couldn’t take the ferry.

When used in this manner, some adverbs or adverbial phrases function as conjunctions, joining two independent phrases. Note that when using a conjunctive adverb, the proper punctuation can vary from the standard introduced for coordinating conjunctions. 

Conjunctive adverbs include:

  • After all
  • As a result
  • Consequently
  • Finally
  • For example
  • Furthermore
  • Hence
  • However
  • In addition
  • In fact
  • Incidentally
  • Indeed
  • Instead
  • Likewise
  • Meanwhile

Can You Begin a Sentence With a Conjunction?

According to Molly Pennington, PhD, a writer for Reader’s Digest, “You’ve probably always heard that you should never start a sentence with ‘and,’ ‘but,’ or, ‘or.'” This rule used to be taken very seriously; however, she advises, “You can use them, but see if you can find a stronger, more effective choice…” 

So, if you’re wondering whether to start a sentence with a conjunction, you’ve found your answer. Go for it! This rule of grammar has become more relaxed in the past decade. 

Now, you have a list of conjunctions that can be used in both simple and complex sentences to join phrases, sentences, clauses, and words. You should be able to identify coordinating, subordinating, and correlating conjunctions, as well as conjunctive adverbs. Furthermore, you should be able to distinguish a subordinator from a preposition, which will make diagramming sentences an easier and more straightforward task. 

Sources:

  1. https://www.citationmachine.net/grammar-and-plagiarism/conjunction/conjunctions-list/
  2. https://www.rd.com/culture/grammar-rules-changed-last-decade/
  3. https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/conjunctions/conjunctions.html