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Concourse 2



The term conjunct is variably used by grammarians but most will include conjunctions as a special form of conjunct.  You may also find these forms referred to as conjoins.  We'll stick to the more common conjunct in what follows.
This guide concerns conjuncts which are not conjunctions.  There is a separate guide on this site to conjunctions linked in the list of related guides at the end which considers matters of coordination, subordination and correlation and there are also guides to subordination and coordination which contain more detail.


The difference between conjuncts and conjunctions

Although we have already noted that conjunctions are a class of conjuncts, it is important now to get the distinctions clear because what follows will be difficult to understand until that is done.

Look at these four and focus on the bits in black.

  1. I was very late so I had to run to catch my train.
  2. I came late.  Therefore, I missed his introduction.
  3. He is being obstructive and he isn't helping.
  4. He is being rude.  Moreover, he isn't helping.

What happens if you remove the bits in black?  Click here when you have an answer.

To check if you can distinguish between a conjunct and a conjunction, try this test.

If you got all those right, it's safe to move on.


The form of conjuncts

All conjuncts are a form of adverbial but they are not all adverbs.  Here's a short list of the various forms that conjuncts may take:

  1. Adverbs
    These are the most frequent form.  Examples are:
        He has spent all his money.  Besides, there is nothing he really wants to buy.
        He has lots of money.  However, there's nothing he wants to buy.
        The train was late.  Additionally, it was overcrowded and uncomfortable.
  2. Prepositional phrases
    These are generally slightly more formal alternatives to simple adverbs and can be formed from them providing there is an available noun to function as the complement of the preposition.  Example are:
        There is snow forecast.  In addition, it's going to be windy.
        There is snow forecast.  Notwithstanding the weather, we are taking the trip.
        The trains here are rarely late.  By contrast, they are always late in my country.
  3. Finite clauses (often conditional)
        The train was late.  If it hadn't been, I would have been early.
        I'll leave soon. 
    Unless I don't I'll miss my train.
  4. Non-finite verb forms are used but less commonly
        It will snow tomorrow.  Taking that into account, we'll leave a bit earlier.
        It's a shambles.  Better put, it's irreparable
        To sum up, the situation is a bit difficult.
  5. Even less commonly and formally, demonstrative pronouns exhibit conjunct-like behaviour although they are not adverbial; they are pro-forms.  For example:
        John wanted evidence of progress.  That I could not find.
        Why don't we go out for dinner.  That I would enjoy.
        She stays out till all hours.  This her father will not tolerate.
        He tells me the paint is here.  This I cannot see.
        She pointed out her new shoes.  Those I did not like.
        Here are the old tools he gave me.  These I do not use.
    Only that and this can be used to refer to a clause, incidentally, as in the second and thirds examples.

Syntactic homonymy

This horrible expression refers to the fact that words and phrases can slide between classes because they can perform different functions depending on the intended meaning.

Some words and phrases exhibit this phenomenon and can act as conjuncts in certain settings, as conjunctions in others and prepositions in other environments.  For example, in:
    Notwithstanding his objections, I am determined to do it.
the word is acting as a preposition, but in:
    He objects.  Notwithstanding, I am determined to do it.
the word is acting as an adverb and a conjunct, although nevertheless would be a more common choice, and in:
    Notwithstanding that he objects, I am determined to do it.
the word is acting as a subordinating conjunction.

Adverbs, too, of course, are not always conjuncts affecting the whole of the second clause and linking it to the first.  Sometimes, they function to modify only the verb phrase of which they are part and are simple adjuncts.  For example, in:
    John eventually told me the truth
    Mary certainly believed him
    They initially forgot to pay

the adverbs are operating as adjuncts modifying the verbs in the usual way.  However, in:
    We can't wait forever.  Eventually, we will have to make a decision
    He was very unhappy.  Certainly, he looked glum
    We have to start somewhere.  Initially, we need a plan of action.

the adverbs are functioning as conjuncts, linking the clauses.  How they are doing that is described below.

This phenomenon is even more marked in the case of disjuncts, to which there is a separate guide linked in the list of related guides at the end.


A note on intonation

Conjuncts are frequently written rather than spoken but they are used in oral communication, and a few, as we shall see, are almost confined to spoken language.
The intonation on the conjunct, whether a single word or a phrase, or even a finite clause, tends to be a rise-fall to indicate its importance.  Like this:

If you are going to practise using conjuncts in spoken language, this is worth some attention so that people are producing a natural intonation contour.


The functions of conjuncts

There are as many ways of classifying what conjuncts do as there are authorities writing about them.  The following is not intended to be an original contribution to the discussion and you will see that some of the categories overlap (or are contiguous).
For teaching purposes, however, they are helpful in terms of planning what to teach so that you are focusing on a limited range of concepts in a lesson.  Mixing up lots of different functions when teaching the area is a sure way to confuse your learners.

All conjuncts function to join independent clauses.  However, how they do that and the nature of the connection between ideas is variable.

Listing conjuncts imply that what is being said forms part of a series.  The simplest way of doing this in English is by the use of commas but certain conjuncts perform this function and emphasise the fact that we are dealing with a list.  Examples are:
    For a start, you are late.
    What's more, you forgot to bring the right tools.
also brought the wrong materials.
As if all that wasn't enough, you want to leave early.
When listings are ordered, a number of other conjuncts are possible.  For example:
    Firstly, we need to set out what we want.
    Then we can make the calls.
    Finally we can list the responses.
    In the first instance, we'll gather some data.
    Then, we'll do some number crunching.
    Next, we'll have to write the report
    At the end, it'll be quite satisfying.
Closely connected to the ideas of listing and enumerating is the category of additive conjuncts which often perform a reinforcing function, making the connection more forceful.  These are common and commonly taught.  Examples are:
    He is late.  In addition, he has forgotten his notes.
    We have completed the project.  Furthermore, we have written up the report.
    She is on holiday.  Her secretary is as well.
    The weather's getting chilly.  Moreover, the forecast is for snow.
    The work is essential.  Additionally, it's urgent.
    He lost his way.  Into the bargain, he had forgotten to bring a map.
    He has no work and no hope of getting any, to boot.

The conjunct as well can only occur at the end of a clause and that is unusual because most conjuncts are conventionally initial.  It leads to errors such as
    *He was late.  He as well lost his notes.
    *He was late.  As well he lost his notes.

Other constructions which perform an additive function can be placed initially, in mid-position or terminally:
    It's cold.  It's very windy, moreover.
    It's cold.  It is, moreover, very windy

A couple of prepositional constructions serve to introduce examples linked to a preceding statement.  For example(!):
    There are lots of pleasant places to go.  The pier is one, for example.
    He is often a bit rude.  For instance, he just demanded his coffee this morning.
    There's a lot of things I would like.  Such as a new car.
    There's a lot to be said for it.  As an example, it's quite light and portable.
The prepositional phrases for example and for instance can occur initially, in mid-position or terminally.  The expression such as can only appear initially.
Appositional / Re-phrasing / Correcting
Apposition refers to the fact that the topic is common to both clauses.  For example:
    This has gone horribly wrong.  In other words, it's a disaster.
    He's not the man for the job.  By which I mean we should re-advertise the position.

A sub-group of this category are conjuncts used to re-phrase or slightly correct what has been said or written and it is sometimes impossible (and rarely necessary) to separate the functions.  For example:
    It's working off and on.  Better put, it's an intermittent fault.
    He's not coming.  Rather, he can't come until later.
These conjuncts refer to a summation or conclusion.  For example:
    He is not answering the door or his phone.  I conclude he is unwilling to talk.
    In conclusion, let me highlight the main points.
    So, that's why we are so late.
    To sum up, that's the situation we face.
    In a nutshell, the work will be expensive and long lasting.
    To cut a long story short, the holiday was not what we expected.
This is a common category and conjuncts are frequently used to express outcomes.  For example:
    He came late.  Consequently, he couldn't get a ticket.
    She arrived early.  Therefore, she found a seat.
    The power was out.  As a consequence, I couldn't check my emails.
    There was heavy rain overnight.  As a result, the road was impassable.
    The figures were wrong.  In view of that, she decided to recalculate the forecast.
There are three sub-sections of this category in this analysis (but not in all as some of these are elsewhere considered separate categories).  For example:
    We can meet at the pub.  Alternatively, you can come to my place.
    Come for dinner.  Or, if you prefer, lunch.

    She didn't go to the dance.  Instead, she got on with her studies.
    We can go to the park for a picnic.  Otherwise, we could get a snack at the station.
Antithetic (i.e., expressing the opposite meaning):
    He's no genius.  On the contrary, he seems a bit slow.
    That's not fair.  In fact, it's grossly unjust.
    That's not the best way.  Quite the opposite, it's slow and unreliable.
    He isn't poor.  Indeed, he was left a lot of money by his mother.
    He's very sure of himself.  Still, he has a right to be, I guess.
    It's raining.  All the same, I'll take the dogs out.
    She arrived late.  However, it didn't matter.
    They may not arrive at all.  At any rate, they'll be very late.
Conjuncts often suggest that two things are of equal significance.  For example:
    I don't want to eat here.  Likewise, I'd avoid that restaurant there.
    He is a talented musician.  Similarly, his sister shows promise.
    The main course was excellent.  Equally, the service was very attentive.
    The information is complex and difficult to understand.  By the same token, it is full and informative.
Switching the subject
This function is frequent in spoken language but almost non-existent in written language except of the most informal kind.  For example:
    I'm going into town.  By the way, did you ever see Mary about the car?
    That's her sister.  As an aside, her brother's told me she is leaving the country.
    I'll see you tomorrow.  Come to think of it, is your brother in town?
    That's a pity.  Anyway, what are we doing this evening?
This category is missing from some analyses but is quite common although limited in terms of the exponents.  For example:
    He spent the day gardening.  Meanwhile, I just sat around and read.
    He was born in Britain and retired to Germany.  In the meantime, he spent many years in France.
    I have a meeting at 9 and another at 3.  In the interim, I don't have much to do.
    He lived in many countries.  Eventually, he settled in America.
    She revised the figures carefully.  Later, she presented the new data to the team.

The examples given above do not, of course, cover all possible realisations of conjuncts in English.  A longer list, which is still not exhaustive, is available in PDF format here.


Theme and rheme

By their nature, conjuncts are ideal cohesive devices to maintain theme-rheme structures in both writing and speech (more usually the former).
If the concept of theme-rheme coherence is unfamiliar to you, there is a guide on this site, linked below.  Here it will suffice to say that the theme is the subject or main participant in a clause and the rheme is all that follows.  The rheme is often taken up immediately or at a later stage in a paragraph or longer spoken turn to become the theme of the next clause and so on.
To exemplify, here is a slightly adapted company memo:

After consultation with department representatives, a new company working policy will soon be implemented. Accordingly, everyone will be enabled to do a number of things. Firstly, flexi-working will be permitted. Consequently, this means that, providing your work is not affected, you will be able to come to work and go home at any time between 8 am and 9pm. Of course, the hours one spends at work will be unchanged. However, more individual flexibility is allowed. For example, if you wish, you can work for 10 hours a day for four days and have a 3-day weekend. Alternatively, you may prefer to work two half says every week and spread the work over six days.
Secondly, everyone will be able to access the server from home, providing they have a secure terminal. Therefore, there will be the possibility to work at home sometimes. However, if your presence in the building is required because you are meeting customers or agents, then that will not be an option on those days. Otherwise, at-home working will not be affected.

The conjuncts have been highlighted and you can see that they are of different sorts.  The function of them all, however, is to link the themes and rhemes in the text, like this:
theme rheme

To explain a little:

  1. The first sentence sets the scene (a topic sentence) and alerts the reader to the content to follow.  The them of that sentences is a new company working policy.
  2. That rheme is linked to the next sentence by the conjunct accordingly and become the new theme, everyone (meaning the people whom the policy affects) which has the rheme will be enabled to do a number of things.
  3. The first of what those things are becomes the theme of the next sentence, linked to it by the enumerator firstly, and concerns the theme flexi-working.
  4. Because the passive is used throughout this text, the themes of you and everyone are assumed.  In the active, most themes are simply the subjects of the verb but in the passive, they are normally the patients.

and so on.  Refer to the table above to see how the rest works out.


Teaching conjuncts: the problems for learners

There are a number of generalities concerning conjuncts which actually make them quite a neat and useful teaching target.  However, there are also a few irregularities and pitfalls that it makes sense to be prepared for or avoid.

  1. All conjuncts, by their nature, refer anaphorically (i.e., back) to a previous notion.  In this sense, they are a good deal easier to get right than conjunctions which can operate both anaphorically and cataphorically.
    For example, the subordinating conjunction because works in both ways:
        Because she was very late, we ate before she came
    cataphoric reference to the result, anaphoric reference to the cause
        We ate before she came because she was very late
    anaphoric reference to the result, cataphoric reference to the cause.
    However, when the two ideas are joined with a conjunct, no such reversal of cause and effect is possible and only
        She was very late.  Therefore, we ate before she came.
    is the possible ordering and
        *Therefore, we ate before she came.  She was very late
    is close to nonsense.
  2. Because of the anaphoric referencing, nearly all conjuncts are conventionally placed in the initial position of the second clause and it is unusual and often very formal to place them elsewhere.  It occurs in writing but rarely in speech that we have, for example:
        He's a good source of help and advice.  He is, furthermore, generous with his time.
        He's a good source of help and advice.  He is generous with his time, furthermore.
    Some conjuncts are irregular in this respect:
    • The conjuncts too and as well only come in final positions in the second clause so while, e.g.:
          He's a good source of help and advice.  He is generous with his time, too.
          He's a good source of help and advice.  He is generous with his time, as well.
      are acceptable, no other position for the conjuncts is possible.  We cannot have:
          *He's a good source of help and advice.  Too, he is generous with his time.
          *He's a good source of help and advice.  As well, he is generous with his time.
    • The conjunct though is also slightly unusual in often coming terminally but it can come in other positions, albeit more rarely so:
          He's a good source of help and advice.  He is very busy, though.
          He's a good source of help and advice.  Though, he is very busy.
          He's a good source of help and advice.  He is, though, very busy.
      are all acceptable.
      It is also unusual in not always being followed by a comma when it is in initial position.
      There's a little more on the conjunct though below.
    • When finite clauses are used as conjuncts, they often demand the initial position and cannot be placed elsewhere, even in formal writing.  For example:
          It's reached the point of no return.  By which I mean we need to replace it completely.
      is an acceptable rephrasing but the conjunct clause cannot be placed anywhere else in the second sentence.
      The conjunct such as shares this requirement and is only placed initially in the second clause.
  3. Stylistically, conjuncts are often more formal than the conjunction equivalent so appear most frequently in the written form.  For example:
        He went to school by bus.  Additionally, he came home in the same way.
    is formal to the point of unnatural stiffness
        He went to school by bus and came home in the same way
    would be preferred.
    There are exceptions here, too:
    • Conjuncts used to change the subject are nearly confined to spoken interaction and very informal writing (such as personal emails, which share stylistic characters).  In written, especially formal, language, therefore, we do not encounter anyway, anyhow, come to think of it, by the bye and so on used as subject-switching conjuncts.
      The exceptions are the conjunct adverbs incidentally and parenthetically, which are used, even in formal writing, to introduce or mark a non-essential but related point.  For example:
          The plans include a new Thames bridge.  The structure, incidentally, will be paid for with private capital.
    • Some other conjuncts are, by contrast, less formal than the conjunction equivalents and they include many prepositional phrases like
          to boot, into the bargain, for a start, on top of that, in a nutshell, on the other hand
      as well as some finite and non-finite clauses including
          a case in point is, if that wasn't enough, to cut a long story short.

It is as well to bear these points in mind when teaching, or planning to teach, conjuncts.


Error alert!

It is very important that the distinction between conjunctions and other conjuncts is made clear.
Much erroneous language or unnatural expression is caused by the failure to distinguish between conjuncts and conjunctions.

For example:
    *She came to the party additionally with her sister
where the speaker has failed to realise that additionally is a conjunct, not a conjunction.  The sentence has to be split to allow for that so either:
    She came to the party and brought her sister
    She came to the party and, additionally, brought her sister
are correct forms.

A particular difficulty arises with the words although and though which are both usable as conjunctions and, for example:
    He bought her a present although he doesn't have much money
    He brought her a present though he doesn't have much money
    Though it was raining, he took the dog out
    Although it was raining, he took the dog out

are all acceptable.
The difficulty arises if they are taught as, or assumed to be, synonyms.  Conceptually, they are but syntactically they are not.  The word though can be a conjunct or a conjunction but although is only a conjunction.  So, for example:
    He bought her a present.  He doesn't have much money, though
is acceptable but
    *He bought her a present.  He doesn't have much money, although
is not and
    *They were happy with the work.  Although, it cost more than they expected.
is not acceptable either.
We can accept, therefore:
    The work was done on time.  It was more expensive than I expected, though. (conjunct)
    The work was done on time though it was more expensive than I expected
    The work was done on time although it was more expensive than I expected
but not:
    *The work was done on time.  It was more expensive than I expected, although.


Teaching conjuncts: some ideas

Conceptually, there is little difficulty here because all languages use some form of conjunct to connect ideas logically.  How they do it is different, naturally, and what appears as a conjunct in English may be a simple conjunction in other languages and vice versa.
The area does deserve, therefore, some care and attention.

Form is not usually an issue although teachers need to be aware of the four major types covered above so they do not mix them up at the presentation stage.  It is probably simplest to begin with the adverbs, move on to prepositional phrases and only later consider the roles of finite and non-finite clauses as these are less frequent and a bit more troublesome.  At lower levels, the first two of these categories are the only ones worth considering, arguably.
The small issues mentioned above concerning word order are also important.

Concept is another matter.  In the analysis above and the PDF document listing common conjuncts, we have considered 13 categories of function.  Jumbling these up or presenting learners with too many types at once is a sure way to classroom purgatory.
The trick, when planning, therefore, is to take one or a few connected categories and deal with them discretely.  Which categories you select will depend on two main factors:

  1. Level:
    At lower levels, conjuncts need to be left alone until the corresponding conjunctions have been mastered.  These will include at least additive, contrastive, temporal and resultative concepts realised with conjunctions such as and, but, although, so, because, then, after, before etc.
    At around B1 / B2 level, the most frequent categories need to be presented.  This list will probably include the same categories (additive, resultative, temporal and contrastive) with the addition of enumeration which is achieved mostly through the use of conjuncts, not conjunctions, and focus on commoner realisations such as moreover, furthermore, as a result, therefore, for that reason, initially, meanwhile, in the meantime, nevertheless, however, firstly, finally, at the outset etc.
    At higher levels, especially if learners need to operate in business or academic settings, the more complex and rarer items should be the focus to extend the repertoire and focus on issues of style.
  2. Learner needs:
    Unless learners need to be able to write formal reports and essays, a passive understanding of many conjuncts such as in view of that, correspondingly, as an illustration, in the interim etc. is adequate.
    Learners operating in academic, technical or business settings may need to master the items productively.

Awareness raising

By the time conjuncts are the focus, learners should be aware of the logical connections realised by conjunctions so a simple beginning is to match ideas.  Something like this, suitably amended for focus and level, works well as a starting point:

Which ones have the same connection?  Match the sentences on the right to those on the left. 
He left because he was bored.   The price was more than we expected.  However, the work had to be done. 
Although the weather was appalling, he took the dog for a walk. She took a few days off to see her mother.  In the meantime, I looked after her cats.
We can go to the cinema or stay in and watch TV. The film didn't interest her.  In view of that, she left after the first half hour.
He worked on his essay while I was preparing dinner. If we have the time, we can take the airport bus.  Alternatively, there are lots of taxis at the bus station.

This kind of exercise, suitably adjusted for the various functions described above, is a form of presentation.  The next step is controlled production.  Here is an idea for that:

Match the sentences on the right to those on the left.  What follows logically?
We can't hang about.   In fact, John had done that.
He's a bit demanding. Eventually, a decision must be made.
They accused us of not paying. It can be, subsequently, altered.
This is the plan for now. Still, it's the job, I guess.

This exercise can be done in a number of ways for variety with alternative conjunct classes.  A classroom mingle to find who has the appropriate partner clause on a slip of paper is lively and productive, for example, and that can be extended to finding two people, one who has the opening clause and another who has the conjunct on slips of paper.

For written productive work an alternative approach can be used which involves re-writing short texts, removing the conjunctions and replacing them with conjuncts, making adjustments to the punctuation along the way.  For example, the following can be adjusted:

The film was pretty dull so we left early and went to a cafe for a drink before catching the last bus home.  John didn't come with us because he was enjoying the film, or so he said.

like this:

The film was pretty dull.  Consequently, we left early.  At first, we went to a cafe for a drink.  Then, we caught the last bus home.  John was enjoying the film; certainly, he said he was and, as a result, he didn't come with us.

a good deal of useful discussion of matters of style can arise from this sort of exercise.  It can be made easier by highlighting the conjunctions to replace and providing a list of possible conjuncts for the re-phrasing exercise.

Productive work can then be further extended with oral or written work which demands the use of certain types of conjuncts.  This is often best done as a hybrid of a free- and structured-response task with learners obliged to use a set of conjuncts but free to write or talk about whatever they want.  Here are some examples:

It is not too difficult to think of alternative scenarios and tasks to practise all forms and functions of conjuncts.

There is a short test in this area to identify the function of conjuncts.  Click here to do it.

Related guides
adverbials for a general guide to these which includes adjuncts and disjuncts
theme-rheme structures for more on a key concept in coherence and cohesion in English
expressing cause and effect for more on result conjuncts and conjunctions
disjuncts for a guide to this area alone
PDF document for a classified list of conjuncts
conjunction for more on the distinction between conjunct and conjunction leading on to consider coordination and subordination
coordination for a separate guide with a little more detail
subordination for a separate guide with a little more detail