Conjunctions in English Grammar

Introduction

Conjunctions, also called connecting or linking words, are words like and, or, so and when. We use them to join words, phrases and clauses. Coordinating conjunctions, such as and, or, but join words, phrases or independent clauses together. Subordinating conjunctions, such as after, although, so or as, join an independent clause with a dependent or subordinate one.

Learn about coordinating and subordinating conjunctions in English grammar then practice using them in the exercises at the end of the lesson.

Example

It is Jane’s birthday so she is having a party. Lots of people are coming, but not all of our friends have been invited.

Although the traffic was bad, we arrived at the party on time. Jane was happy about the chocolates and flowers we gave her.

When she put music on, people started dancing immediately. Since the music was so great, we danced all night long.

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Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions connect words, phrases or clauses. We use them to connect two ideas of equal value. Common coordinating conjunctions include and, but, or.

Example:
What should we give Jane for her birthday, flowers or chocolate? (connecting words)
Her birthday party will be very fun and full of people. (connecting phrases)
Lots of people are coming but not all of our friends were invited. (connecting clauses)
Jane’s birthday is on Friday. But the party is on Saturday. (connecting sentences)
Using and/or/but at the beginning of a sentence is very common in spoken English but we avoid it in formal written English.

Use the mnemonic FANBOYS to help you remember which conjunctions are coordinating.

Example:
F → for
A → and
N → nor
B → but
O → or
Y → yet
S → so

List of Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions can be divided into categories based on their meaning or function in a sentence: addition, alternative, contrast or reason. The table below provides an overview.

Category Conjunction Example
addition and We gave Jane flowers and chocolate for her birthday.
alternative or Should we give Jane flowers or chocolate?
nor We didn’t buy Jane flowers(,) nor did we buy her a present.
contrast but We bought flowers(,) but we did not buy chocolate.
yet We bought flowers for Jane(,) yet we did not buy chocolate.
reason for We bought Jane flowers, for it was her birthday.
so It’s Jane’s birthday, so we bought her flowers.

Word Order with Coordinating Conjunctions

A coordinating conjunction always comes between the two elements it connects.

Example:
Lots of people are coming to the party, but not all of our friends are coming.
But not all of our friends are coming, lots of people are coming.

Because coordinating conjunctions connect words, phrases and clauses of the same grammatical type (coordinating clauses), we can switch the order of the things being connected without changing the meaning.

Example:
Not all of our friends have been invited, but lots of people are coming.
Lots of people are coming, but not all of our friends have been invited.

The exception is for and so which connect a reason to a result. We cannot switch the order of the items being connected because it wouldn't make sense.

Example:
James won’t be at the party for he wasn’t invited.
for connects a result to a reason
James wasn’t invited so he won’t be at the party.
so connects a reason to a result

Inverted Word Order

The coordinating conjunction nor must follow a negated clause. The subject and auxiliary verb in the nor-clause are inverted.

Example:
We did not buy Jane flowers, nor did we buy her a birthday present.
We did not buy Jane flowers, nor we did buy her a birthday present.

For more information about word order in English sentences see the sentences section of the website.

Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions are two-word conjunctions. They are similar to coordinating conjunctions because they link two items of the same grammatical structure. Some typical examples include: either … or, neither … nor, both … and.

Example:
To get to Jane’s you can either take the bus to Old Street or I can pick you up.
Both Michael and Julia arrived late to the party.

List of Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions can be divided into categories based on their meaning or function in a sentence: addition, alternative, reason, comparison or time. The table below provides an overview.

Category Conjunction Example
addition both … and Both Michael and Julia arrived late.
not only … but also Jane received not only flowers but also chocolates.
alternative neither … nor Neither Michael nor Julia arrived at the party on time.
either … or To get to Jane’s you can either take the bus to Old Street or I will pick you up.
whether … or Whether we buy flowers or (we buy) chocolates, it’s the thought that counts.
reason such … that We had such fun dancing that we stayed until 5 am.
comparison as … as The party was as fun as last year.
rather … than I would rather stay here dancing than go home and go to sleep.
time scarcely … when The music had scarcely begun to play when everyone started dancing.
no sooner … than No sooner had the music started than everyone began to dance.

Inverted Word Order with Correlative Conjunctions

  • When a sentence begins with the correlative conjunctions no sooner … than, not only … but also or scarcely … when, the subject and auxiliary verb are inverted.
Example:
No sooner had the music begun than everybody started dancing.
Not only did Jane receive flowers but also chocolate.
Scarcely had the music begun when people started dancing.
  • When the sentence begins with a subject the word order is not inverted.
Example:
Jane received not only flowers but also chocolate.

Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions create a connection between a main or independent clause and a subordinate or dependent clause. We use them to emphasise or support the idea expressed in the main clause. Some common subordinating conjunctions are because, although and when.

Example:
Although the party was very fun, we decided to go home early.
When the party was over, there was lots of cleaning up to do.
Everyone danced because the music was so great.

Info

Don’t use two different subordinating conjunctions to connect two clauses in a single sentence. One conjunction is generally enough.

Example:
Because the party was very fun, we stayed until 5 am.
The party was very fun, so we stayed until 5 am.
But not:
Because the party was very fun, so we stayed until 5 am.

List of Subordinating Conjunctions

Conjunctions can be divided into categories based on their function or meaning, in a sentence. The table below provides an overview of subordinating conjunctions.

Category Conjunction Example
reason as We are going to be late to the party as the traffic is bad.
since Since the traffic is bad, we are going to be late to the party.
because We are going to be late to the party because the traffic is bad.
comparison although/though We arrived at the party on time although/though the traffic was bad.
even though We arrived at the party on time even though the traffic was bad.
whereas We arrived at the party on time whereas Michael and Julie were late.
while We arrived at the party on time while Michael and Julie were late
purpose so (that) Jane threw a party so that we could celebrate her birthday.
in order that Jane threw a party in order that we could celebrate her birthday.
so as to Jane threw a party so as to celebrate her birthday.
in order to Jane threw a party in order to celebrate her birthday.
condition if If we go to the party, we will have fun.
provided that Provided that we go to the party, we will have fun.
as long as As long as we go to the party, we will have fun.
unless Unless the party is boring, we will have fun.
except if Except if the party is boring, we will have fun.
time as soon as Everyone started dancing as soon as Jane put the music on.
once Everyone started dancing once Jane put the music on.
when Everyone started dancing when Jane put the music on.
after Everyone started dancing after Jane put the music on.
before Nobody was dancing before Jane put the music on.
since Everyone has been dancing since Jane put the music on.
as We danced as the music played.
while We danced while the music played.
until Everyone danced until Jane turned the music off.

Word Order with Subordinating Conjunctions

A subordinating conjunction always introduces a dependent, also subordinate, clause; i.e., it begins that clause. However, the order of the main and dependent clause is not fixed:

  • A dependent clause can usually come first or second in a sentence.
Example:
We arrived late at the party because the traffic was so bad.
main clause + conjunction + dependent clause
Because the traffic was so bad, we arrived late at the party.
conjunction + dependent clause, main clause
  • When the dependent clause goes first, the clauses are separated by a comma.
Example:
Since the music was so great, we danced until 5 am.
  • Dependent clause that begin with as or since often come in the first position.
Example:
Since the music was so great, we danced all night long.
  • Dependent clauses that show purpose (so, so that, in order that etc.) often come in the second position. Putting them first is more formal.
Example:
She sent the invitations out early, so that everyone would be able to come.
common order in everyday English
So that everyone would be able to come, she sent the invitations out early.
formal style
  • The conjunctions so as to and in order to are followed by an infinitive of purpose. In this case, the conjunction can also be left out.
Example:
Jane threw a party (so as) to celebrate her birthday.
  • Dependent clauses that begin with until usually come in the second position.
Example:
We danced until Jane turned the music off.
Example:
After having danced all night, the guests were exhausted.
Before leaving the party, everyone sang Happy Birthday and ate a slice of cake.