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Linguapress English Grammar
Advanced level reading resources Intermediate reading resources English grammar online Language games and puzzles
Linguapress English Grammar

Conjunctions and connectors in English

Coordinating and subordinating words : conjunctions  connectors and conjunctive adverbs.

Key points : Connectors - also called conjunctive words - are words that link two similar elements in a sentence.
  • The four categories of connector are 
  • A small number of conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs can link individual words or phrases; but the majority can only link two clauses.
  • A coordinated clause or phrase must follow the clause or phrase to which it is connected.
  • A subordinate clause normally follows the main clause, but in some cases may preceed it. See below.

The problem with conjunctions : where linguists disagree

Most traditional grammars just repeat the established classification of conjunctions as being either coordinating conjunctions or subordinating conjunctions. This neat classification works in most cases, but for some words it does not.  But and though can often be used as synonyms; yet but is listed as a coordinator, and though as a subordinator.
    Compare: He took part in the competition, but he did not win.
     and :  He took part in the competition, though he did not win.
Similarly, the old-fashioned "coordinator" for, has generally been replaced in modern English by as or by because, which are classed as subordinators.  
  Yet there is a real difference between but and though, and that is the way in which they are used. The clause starting with though in the examples above could possibly come before He took part in the competition, but the clause starting with but cannot do so.
OK  Though he did not win, he took part in the competition.
Not OK  But he did not win, he took part in the competition. 
This suggests that the pertinent distinction between different types of conjunction is not actually one of function, but one of usage.
   As for so, implying consequence, both David Crystal and Quirk, Greenbaum consider it as a subordinator; but many dictionaries and most Internet grammar sites, including Wikipedia, call it a coordinator. Coe, in the classic Learner's Grammar of English, carefully avoids calling it anything more than a conjunction.
      For clarification of "so" see English grammar - so

Part 1. Conjunctions

1. Coordinating conjunctions :

Coordinating conjunctions are used to link two clauses or phrases of equal value or equal status.
There are only a small number of coordinating conjunctions in English: most sources repeat what others say, and list the following seven, using the convenient acronym FANBOYS.
  • for, and, nor, but,or, yet and so.  
It is perhaps preferable to exclude for and so, and prefer the acronym BANYO.

USAGE: Coordinating connectors give equal value to the two elements that they coordinate.
They must be placed between the two elements that they coordinate.
I want three beers and a glass of lemonade
He went to bed and went to sleep.
You can have the chocolate mousse or the lemon tart
They'll win, or they'll lose.
This present is not for Peter, but Paul
I bought a new dress that was not red but pink.
We're going to Paris, but not to Rome.
We're going to Paris, but we're also going to Rome.
He was very tired yet very happy.
The director was rather young, yet the company was successful.

Can you start a sentence with a conjunction?

A lot of grammar books claim that it is wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction. This is just not true ! Most of the great writers in the English language have from time to time used sentences starting with conjunctions. In the "King James" version of the Bible, which was the standard work of reference for style in the English for three hundred years, two of the first three sentences in the first chapter of the book of Genesis start with And....

2. Subordinating conjunctions :

Subordinating conjunctions are used to link two clauses within a single sentence, when one clause is subordinate to the other.
In other words, the subordinate clause clarifies, expands or explains the meaning of the main clause.
   Some types of subordinate clause are introduced by subordinating conjunctions, others (such as relative clauses) are not. Common subordinating conjunctions include
  • as , because and since  (cause)
  • so and so that  (purpose)
  • although and though  (contrastive)
  • after, before, until, while, etc.  (temporal)
  • if, unless, as long as, provided, whenever, whatever (conditional, indirect question)
  • that (reported speech, indirect statement, consequential)

Subordinating conjunctions come at the start of the subordinate clause.
There are two sorts of subordinate clauses.
     A subordinate clause cannot stand alone: it needs a main clause to complete the sentence.

In these examples, it is not possible to invert the two clauses in sentences written in red
  1. I 'm going to London because I've got a new job.
  2. Since it's raining, I'm going to the cinema this afternoon.
  3. She didn't want any more wine, as she'd already drunk enough.
  4. As she'd drunk enough, she didn't take any more wine.
  5. I'm locking the door, so nobody can get in
  6. So he wouldn't forget to wake up, he set his alarm for 5.30.
  7. Although I love him, I wouldn't want to marry him.
  8. This book is good, though some bits of it are rather boring.
  9. After I finished work, I went straight home.
  10. Until they opened a new factory, they could not produce enough
  11. If you see anything suspicious, let me know at once.
  12. He asked the policeman if he knew of a good restaurant.
  13. Provided you can swim, you can come out on our yacht.
  14. You can come out on our yacht, as long as you can swim.
  15. I won't go there, whatever he says.
  16. This ice-cream is so good, that I'm going to have another one.
  17. The man said that he was born in New York.
► See also more information on these pages :

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3. Correlating coordinators :

These can either correlate words, or phrases, or clauses (sentences).
The main examples are :
  •  both.... and, not only.... but also, (combining correlators)
  •  either...or ,  whether.... or not (binary choice correlators)
  •  neither.... nor, (negative correlators)
Other correlating pairs include: the more..... the more..... ;  no sooner..... than... ; hardly ... than and a few others. 
USAGE:  With words and phrases, the coordinator normally has to precede the element it is correlating;  when clauses are correlated, the coordinators either precede each correlated clause, or precede the verbs in these clauses. But these special cases should be noted:
Both ... and can correlate words, and occasionally clauses (Examples 1 - 3)
When not only starts a clause, the verb and subject of the first clause are inverted. (Example 4)
But also can be omitted, after not only (Example 6)
When nor introduces a clause, subject and auxiliary/modal verb are inverted. (Examples 16 - 18)
Neither can be replaced by not or never in the first of two correlated clauses. (Example 18)
When no sooner or hardly introduce clauses, auxiliary and subject are inverted.
  1. This is both stupid and incomprehensible.
  2. Both the president and the prime minister were there.
  3. I can understand both his reasons and his arguments.
  4. Not only can I hear him, but also I can  see him
  5. I can not only hear him, but also see him.
  6. Not only can I hear him, I can see him (too).
  7. I bought not only some blue suede shoes, but also a big cowboy hat.
  8. It's either right or wrong.
  9. Either it's right, or it's wrong
  10. Either Mummy or Daddy will pick you up after school.  
  11. I'll go there whether or not I'm allowed to.
  12. I'll go there whether I'm allowed to or not.
  13. We're going home now, whether you like it or not.
  14. Neither Paul nor Mary could come to my party.
  15. I'm neither angry nor happy.
  16. I neither like that man, nor dislike him
  17. I neither like that man; nor do I dislike him.
  18. I have never been to Florida on holiday; nor have I been there on business.
  19. The more you earn, the more you spend.
  20. No sooner had I opened the door, than the phone rang.
  21. Hardly had the plane taken off, than the pilot reported some trouble.

Part 2 Conjunctive adverbs

A fourth important category of connectors consists of words such as therefore or however.
These are explained here: ►   Conjunctive adverbs

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