Conjunctions: words that join two parts of a sentence

Conjunctions are very useful in the English language. Put simply, they are words which are able to join two parts of a sentence together.

There are two main types of conjunction: co-ordinating (or coordinating) and subordinating.

And the parts of a sentence which they join together are known as clauses.

That’s the technical stuff out of the way, so now I’ll show you one or two examples which will hopefully make things a bit clearer.

Coordinating conjunctions, which include and and but, are set apart from most other conjunctions because the two clauses that they join together are of equal importance – they are both what are known as main clauses. Look at this example:

‘The boys played and went home happy.’

In this example, the first clause, ‘The boys played’ is just as important as the second clause – the bit that tells us that they ‘went home happy’.

Some people prefer not to start a sentence in English with and or but but I am quite happy to (although only if it is warranted).

Other coordinating conjunctions are:

  • Or
  • Nor
  • For
  • Yet
  • So

Now consider this:

‘The boys played having enjoyed a good, hearty breakfast.’

In this sentence, ‘having’ is a subordinating conjunction. That is, it indicates the beginning of a clause which is of lesser importance compared to the main clause.

Main clause (more important): ‘The boys played’
Subordinate clause: ‘having enjoyed a good, hearty breakfast.’

Other subordinating conjunctions are given below, with an example of a subordinate clause which is underlined and the main clause in italics

  • Subordinating conjunction: when
    When we were young, we were so carefree.’
  • Subordinating conjunction: after
    After the war, they were able to return home.’
  • Subordinating conjunction: once
    Once he’d eaten, he soon fell asleep.’
  • Subordinating conjunction: because
    Because of the heavy rain, the game was postponed.’
  • Subordinating conjunction: since
    I’ve hardly slept since it happened.’

More subordinating conjunctions:

  • Until
  • While
  • Although
  • If
  • Once
  • In order to
  • Unless
  • That
  • Who and which (denoting the start of a relative clause)
  • Verbs participles (eg, ‘having’)

Correlative conjunctions

Some conjunctions combine with other words to form correlative conjunctions. They always work in pairs and join various sentence elements which are grammatically equal. Common examples are:

  • Neither/nor
  • Either/or
  • Not only/but also
  • Both/and
  • Whether/or

You can find this tip in full, plus lots more about clauses which I have not had room to include here, in my ebook, ‘Improve Your English’, which you can download – FREE! – when you sign up to receive my 9-week English language tips mini course. The form is over to the right, on this and every page on this site.

Practise, practise, practise…and you will soon grasp the idea of clauses which vary in importance.

And then, breaking down even the longest and most complex sentences in English will become ever simpler for you.

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