Conjunctions: And, But, Or and More!

A conjunction is a word used to connect words, phrases, clauses and sentences. They allow us to link ideas and form long, complex sentences instead of short, staccato statements. If you watched the School House Rock episode¬†‚ÄĚConjunction Junction what’s your function?‚Ä̬†as a child, you’re well aware that ‚Äúand, but¬†and¬†or¬†will get you very far‚ÄĚ as the three most commonly used coordinating conjunction examples. However, this gang of little linking words is much bigger than just the conjunction junction trio, with subordinating and correlative types too. And their abilities are impressive for words that are often made up of just two or three letters. We’re going to look at the conjunction meaning in much greater detail, but this¬†useful reference¬†will reiterate the basics.

If you find that you’re struggling with the conjunction definition or another element of grammar, such as¬†preposition,¬†interjection, or¬†determiner, you can use the grammar tool at EasyBib Plus to check your work for errors. And if you’re referring to other sources within your work, EasyBib Plus can also help you to cite them correctly in MLA format,¬†APA format, and many¬†more styles¬†of citation.

Conjunction Function

The simple answer to the question ‚Äúwhat’s a conjunction‚ÄĚ is that it’s a bridging word used to join various elements of a sentence, or to link entire sentences to create a more cohesive idea. These amazingly useful words can be used to connect:

Words

  • Red¬†and¬†white.
  • Tea¬†or¬†coffee.
  • Cloudy¬†but¬†dry.

Phrases

  • Try the chocolate cake¬†and¬†the vanilla pudding.
  • Sit on the big red chair¬†or¬†the squishy blue cushion.

Clauses

  • We’re not going back to that restaurant¬†because¬†I didn’t enjoy the food.
  • My grades have improved¬†since¬†I started taking extra tutoring.

Sentences

  • No-one expected Jenna to finish the race.¬†But¬†she won the gold medal!

Prefixes

  • Pro-¬†and¬†anti- government supporters gathered for the protest.

These clever connectors work well with all of the main word types (noun, adjective, verb, etc.). For example:

  • Nouns¬†— I like both dogs¬†and¬†cats.
  • Verbs¬†— I won’t walk¬†or¬†cycle if it’s raining.
  • Adjective¬†— Ice cream is tasty¬†but¬†unhealthy.
  • Adverbs¬†— I didn‚Äôt work quickly¬†nor¬†quietly.
  • Pronouns¬†— The money is yours¬†and¬†mine.

Types of Conjunction

These linking words come in various different guises, with their own specific functions. The main types are coordinating, subordinating and correlative. Let’s take a look at each in turn.

The FANBOYS of Grammar: Coordinating Conjunctions

The most common coordinators are¬†for, and, nor, but, or, yet¬†and¬†so‚ÄĒwhich conveniently lend themselves to the acronym FANBOYS, to make them easier to remember. These FANBOYS deserve their own big fan base for giving us the means to form complex, interesting sentences, instead of robotic sequences of short statements.

For example, take this sentence:

I like swimming. I like diving. I don’t like getting my hair wet. I don’t like getting water in my ears.

It’s rather stiff, but add in a common coordinating conjunction or three:

I like swimming¬†and¬†diving,¬†but¬†I don’t like getting my hair wet¬†or¬†water in my ears.

You’ll notice that the result is far more natural and flows much better.

One more example:

Sarah works hard at school. Sarah always completes her homework on time. Sarah doesn’t good grades.

vs.

Sarah works hard at school,¬†and¬†always completes her homework on time,¬†yet¬†she doesn’t get good grades.

These short but sweet connectors are used to join words, phrases, clauses and even sentences that are of equal importance, i.e., the emphasis is not placed on one or the other.

For example:

  • Linking words¬†— I like swimming¬†and¬†diving.
  • Linking phrases¬†— I like swimming in the pool¬†and¬†in the sea.
  • Linking clauses¬†— I like swimming,¬†but¬†I don’t like getting my hair wet.

In these examples, each of the joined elements is of equal importance. In the case of the clauses, this makes them independent clauses. A sentence that contains two independent clauses is known as a compound sentence.

If you’re feeling confused by sentence structure, the next section should help.

Independent or Dependent?

It’s really difficult to understand this word type without first understanding sentence structure. Hopefully, this section will make the varying clause combinations less of a mystery. However, if you’re still struggling with sentence structure or with how to define conjunction, you can¬†find more info¬†at this useful site.

There are three main types of sentence structure to remember:

  • Simple¬†— contains a single clause.
  • Complex¬†— contains an independent clause and at least one dependent clause.
  • Compound¬†— contains two or more independent clauses.

Sentences can be made of independent or dependent clauses, which you need to be able to identify. Let’s look at the difference and some examples.

An independent clause contains a subject and a verb, and is able to stand alone as a complete thought. It still makes sense even if you take away the rest of the sentence.

A dependent clause also contains a subject and a verb, but cannot stand alone as a complete thought. As per its name, it depends on the other part of the sentence, usually the independent clause, to make sense.

For example:

  • Independent clause¬†— I was late to class.
  • Dependent clause¬†— Because I was late to class‚Ķ (This clause cannot stand alone as a sentence, making it dependent on another clause.)
  • Independent clause plus independent clause¬†— I was late to class,¬†and¬†I had forgotten my pen. (Linked by the coordinating conjunction¬†and.)
  • Independent clause plus dependent clause¬†— I was given a detention¬†because¬†I was late to class. (Linked by the subordinating conjunction¬†because.)

Or alternatively:

  • Dependent clause plus independent clause¬†—¬†Because¬†I was late to class, I was given a detention.

It’s also possible to join two dependent clauses together with a correlative conjunction. More on those later!

Elliptical Clauses

Dependent clauses can often cause confusion because they may not appear to be a clause at all. This is because the verb or the subject may be implied. This is known as an elliptical clause. Watch out for these when learning about subordinates, which are used to link independent and dependent clauses.

To Comma or Not to Comma?

Now that is the question that can often catch people off guard! This word type and commas have a difficult relationship. However, if you stick to the rules, you can’t go far wrong. The usual rules are as follows.

Independent clause plus independent clause¬†— add a comma after the linking word.

For example:

Sarah always works hard at school, and completes her homework on time.

Some writers argue that, if the independent clauses are short and balanced, the linking word serves in place of the comma, making a comma surplus to requirements.

For example:

Sarah always works hard at school and completes her homework on time.

You might want to discuss this point with your lecturer. However, whichever punctuation you agree upon, remember that consistency is key.

Independent clause plus dependent clause¬†— no comma.

I slipped on the path because it was icy.

Dependent clause plus independent clause¬†— add a comma after the dependent clause.

Because it was icy, I slipped on the path.

The Relationship Makers: Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions are used to join independent and dependent clauses. There are far more members in this gang than there are in the FANBOYS gang.

Common single word examples include: after, before, because, since, as, if, although, though, once, than, that, unless, until, while, when, where, whereas.

You’ll also find examples of this word type that are made up of more than one word. For example:¬†as if, as long as, even if, even though, if only, in order that, rather than, so that.

Subordinate conjunctions can be used to show a variety of different relationships between the two (or more) clauses in a sentence. Let’s look at some examples.¬†Note: In the case of elliptical clauses, the implied words are (enclosed).

Comparison or Degree¬†—¬†than, as, else, otherwise, rather, as much as, as far as, as well as.

  • Sarah is happier¬†than¬†her sister (is happy).
  • I like to read¬†as much as¬†I can (read).
  • Matt doesn’t play football¬†as well as¬†his brother (plays football).

Time¬†—¬†since, until, as long as, as soon as, before, after, when, as, while.

  • We had coffee¬†while¬†we were waiting.
  • I have to leave¬†as soon as¬†it gets dark.
  • Since¬†I started my new job, I haven’t had a single night off.

Place¬†—¬†where.

  • I went to the cafe¬†where¬†we usually meet.

Manner¬†—¬†as if, as though.

  • He led the presentation confidently¬†as though¬†he’d done it many times before.

Condition¬†—¬†if, though, unless, except, without, once.

  • Once¬†you’ve paid the balance, the car is yours.
  • I’m not talking to him¬†unless¬†he calms down.
  • I can’t make a cake¬†without¬†breaking some eggs.

Reason or Concession¬†—¬†as, inasmuch as, why, because, for, since, though, although, albeit.

  • Since¬†you won’t apologize, I’m not speaking to you.
  • Arya went to the shop¬†because¬†she needed milk.

Purpose or Result¬†—¬†that, so that, in order that, such that.

  • We turned out all the lights¬†so that¬†they thought we weren’t home.

Indirect Questions¬†—¬†whether, why, when.

  • He wouldn’t tell me¬†why¬†it was there.

The Two-Word Teams: Correlative Conjunctions

These two-word tag teams can work together to join words, phrases and clauses that have equal weighting within a sentence. They can also be used to join two dependent clauses. Examples include: as/as, if/then, either/or, neither/nor, both/and, where/there, so/as, not only/but also.

The rule with these perfect pairs is that they must be positioned by the parallel elements.

For example:

Sara is buying not only a car but also a motorbike.

This sentence balances because the correlatives are placed before each noun phrase (‚Äúa car‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúa motorbike”).

Matt neither studied for his English test nor finished his paper.

This sentence balances because the correlatives are placed before each verb (‚Äústudied‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúfinished‚ÄĚ).

Amber wanted to win both the gold medal in the 200m race and the gold medal in the 500m race.

This sentence balances because the correlatives are placed before each¬†noun¬†phrase (‚Äúthe gold medal‚ÄĚ).

Amber wanted to either win the 200m race or set a new record.

This sentence balances because the correlatives are placed before each verb (‚Äúwin‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúset‚ÄĚ).

The Wild Cards: Conjunctive Adverbs

When an¬†adverb¬†is used to connect two parts of a sentence it’s known as a conjunctive adverb. The list of these often not-quite-so-little linking words includes:¬†accordingly, also, besides, consequently, conversely, finally, furthermore, hence, however, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, nonetheless, otherwise, similarly, still, subsequently, then, therefore, thus.

The grammar rules for this sub-category differ slightly, with the appearance of the lesser-spotted semicolon.

When used to join two clauses¬†— Clause; conjunctive adverb, clause.

  • Kim decided to stay home because it was raining;¬†therefore, she could spend more time studying for her test.
  • Jack was studying in the library;¬†meanwhile, Sarah was planning his birthday surprise.

These can also be used to join two follow-on sentences¬†— Clause. Conjunctive adverb, clause.

  • Kim decided to stay home because it was raining.¬†Therefore, she could spend more time studying for her test.
  • Jack was studying in the library.¬†Meanwhile, Sarah was planning his birthday surprise.

Sometimes you might place a conjunctive adverb in the middle of a clause. In this case it should usually be enclosed by commas.

  • Kim decided,¬†therefore, to stay at home.
  • Jack was,¬†similarly, trapped indoors.

Simple vs Compound

This handy connective word type comes in varying shapes and sizes. Among the simplest are the coordinators: for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so (remember FANBOYS?).

Other simple single word connectors include: after, as, if, lest, once, since, than, that, though, till, when, where, while.

Compounds are made when two single words come together to form a new word. These include: although, because, nevertheless, notwithstanding, whenever, wherever, therefore, moreover.

Phrasal conjunctives are made of two or more separate words, functioning as one. Examples include: as if, as long as, as much as, as soon as, as though, by the time, even if, even though, in order that, in case, only if, provided that, so that, supposing that.

An Adverbial Friend

Adverbs can be used in conjunction with this word type, allowing you to add extra emphasis to the linking word. Many of the above phrasal examples fall into the category of subordinating linking words modified by adverbs.

For example,¬†even, when standing alone, is an adverb (in this context). Here it’s being used to modify¬†though, to add emphasis to the link between the two clauses.

My mom phoned even though I asked her not to.

Right, when standing alone, is an adverb (in this context). Here it’s being used to modify the linking word¬†before, indicating that she arrived very close to closing time.

I made it to the shops right before they closed.

Follow the Rules

As with all elements of grammar, there are some rules to remember when using these words to link words, phrases, clauses or sentences. These include the following:

Rule 1: The parts that you are linking should be in grammatical agreement.

For example:

  • I like running¬†and¬†to swim — incorrect.
  • I like running¬†and¬†swimming — correct.
  • I like to run¬†and¬†swim — correct.
  • I work quickly¬†yet¬†am accurate — incorrect.
  • I work quickly¬†yet¬†accurately — correct.
  • I am a quick¬†yet¬†accurate worker — correct.

Rule 2: Only use one of this word type to connect two elements of a sentence (unless using a phrasal or correlative). These words usually like to work alone.

For example:

  • Because¬†the bus was late,¬†so¬†I was late for class — incorrect.
  • Because¬†the bus was late, I was late for class — correct.

Break the Rules

The most natural place for a linking word is in-between the elements of a sentence that it is linking. Some rules, however, are meant to be broken and the main act of rebellion for this word type is that it can sometimes be positioned at the beginning of a sentence.

Subordinating Conjunctions Examples

As you’ll have noticed, the dependent and independent clauses of a sentence can often switch positions and still make sense; therefore, placing the subordinate linking word at the beginning of the sentence.

For example:

  • Daniel drinks a protein shake¬†before¬†he goes to the gym.
  • Before¬†he goes to the gym, Daniel drinks a protein shake.

This can be useful for two reasons:

  1. Emphasis

While the independent clause usually dominates the dependent clause, swapping their natural positions can subtly switch the emphasis for the reader.

In the above, example one focuses the reader’s attention on the fact that Daniel drinks a protein shake. While example two focuses the reader’s attention on the fact that Daniel goes to the gym.

  1. Interest

Using a mixture of different sentence structures can help to make your writing more interesting and engaging.

Coordinating Examples

In the case of the FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), positioning them at the beginning of a sentence is the subject of some debate. After all, isn’t the idea of these words that they link two elements together? However, you can use them to link two sentences, positioning the linking word at the start of the second sentence.

It took me seven hours to draft my¬†research¬†paper.¬†But¬†my journey didn’t end there.

The above is a good example of starting a sentence with a coordinate for dramatic effect. You might also use this device to convey surprise.

So Sara ate all the chocolate cake?¬†And¬†she didn’t save you any?

Or to place extra emphasis on the second part.

I lost the first race. But I won the second!

Breaking the rules and positioning your linking word at the start of a sentence can be a very useful device to subtly convey meaning to your reader and add extra interest to your work. However, use it too much and it will quickly lose its power!

Matching the Verb

Some words on the conjunctions list have the additional superpower of denoting whether the sentence verb should be singular or plural.

For example:

Plural Verb

  • My mom¬†and¬†dad¬†were¬†in Florida.
  • Apartments one¬†through¬†ten¬†were¬†empty.
  • In these examples¬†and¬†and¬†through¬†indicate the need for a plural verb.

Singular Verb

  • My mom¬†or¬†dad¬†wakes¬†me every morning.
  • Either¬†apartment one¬†or¬†apartment ten¬†was¬†empty.

In these examples¬†or¬†and¬†either/or¬†indicate the need for a singular verb. Note that if you’re using a correlative, like above, to connect two subjects, it’s the second subject that must agree with the verb.

For example:

  • Either¬†apartment one¬†or¬†apartments six and seven¬†were¬†empty.
  • Either¬†apartments six and seven¬†or¬†apartment one¬†was¬†empty.

The same rule also applies to matching the pronoun to two antecedents connected with a correlative.

For example:

  • Neither¬†Sarah¬†nor¬†her sisters ate their dinner last night.
  • Neither¬†her sisters¬†nor¬†Sarah ate her dinner last night.

List of Conjunctions

As well as the categories that we’ve looked at above‚ÄĒcoordinating, subordinating and correlative‚ÄĒthis word type can also be split into categories of function. These include cumulative/copulative, adversative, disjunctive/alternative and illative.

Let’s look at these in more detail, with examples:

Cumulative/Copulative includes and, both/and, as well as, not only/but also.

These add one statement to another.

For example:

  • I made the presentation,¬†and¬†Alice gave the speech.
  • I¬†not only¬†baked the cake¬†but also¬†made the entrees too.

Adversative includes but, still, yet, whereas, while, nevertheless.

These express a contrast between two statements.

For example:

  • Sara is small,¬†but¬†she is strong.
  • I didn’t want to go to work,¬†yet¬†I still went.

Disjunctive/Alternative includes or, either/or, neither/nor, neither, nor, otherwise, else.

These present two alternatives.

For example:

  • I’d like to holiday in Hawaii¬†or¬†Cancun this year.
  • Either¬†do the work¬†or¬†you’ll fail the class.

Illative includes for and so.

These express something inferred from another statement.

For example:

  • He’s done all the work¬†so¬†he should pass the class.
  • The bus must be late¬†for¬†Sarah has still not arrived.

Still Struggling?

If you’re still struggling to answer the question ‚Äúwhat is a conjunction,‚ÄĚ don’t worry! It can take some time to fully understand the different types and rules of use. Understanding sentence structure and clauses is essential for understanding how to properly use and place conjunction words, which makes this element of grammar even trickier. You can¬†learn more here¬†or search online for conjunctions worksheets to practice what you’ve learned.

EasyBib Plus also has handy tools to give you extra peace of mind while you’re coming to grips with grammar. The grammar checker will help to ensure that your punctuation is perfectly placed, so you can hand in your work without worrying.

The EasyBib Plus¬†plagiarism checker¬†will also give you added confidence that your tutor isn’t going to find examples of accidental plagiarism in your work, which could result in lower marks, failing a paper or even stronger consequences. If you find sources that need to be cited, EasyBib Plus’s citing tools can help you to create citations in a wide variety of formats, including the popular APA and¬†MLA format, as well as Chicago/Turabian and more.