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Concourse 2

Subordination and Coordination

shouting helping

There are separate guides to coordination and subordination on this site but this is the first place to come in this area because the attempt here is to separate the ideas before getting in to an analysis of each.
The three guides in this area also deal with a number of issues covered in more detail elsewhere such as conditionality and concession.  You can track other guides to the area via the section on syntax: phrases, clauses and sentences.


two beers

Subordination vs. Coordination

This is the traditional analysis and one which you will find in many teachers' grammars and those written for learners.  It is only accurate as far as it goes.

The difference between subordination and coordination can be very simply illustrated like this:

co- and sib-ordination

If you have followed the guide to clause structure, you will know that an alternative analysis is to consider the independent clause as the matrix in which a subordinate clause or clauses can be embedded.

complicated

It can get complicated

The structure of complex sentence (i.e., one involving subordination rather than coordination) can be very complicated so we may have, for example:

She came home because the dogs needed feeding but discovered that there was no food for them so she had to go out to the supermarket and get some before she could relax in order to finish the book she was reading so that she could take part sensibly in the reading circle at the weekend.

In that (made up) sentence there are instances of both coordination and subordination.

An independent clause may itself be coordinated:
She came home and she cooked a huge meal because she was so hungry
(Two coordinated independent clauses with the second having a subordinate clause)
and subordinate clauses may be coordinated, too:
She came home and she cooked a huge meal because she was so hungry and she hadn't eaten lunch
(Two coordinated independent clauses with the second having a subordinate clause which is also coordinated)
and subordinate clauses can have their own subordinate clauses:
She came home and she cooked a huge meal because she was so hungry since she hadn't eaten lunch
(Two coordinated independent clauses with the second having a subordinate clause which itself has a subordinate clause)

and so on, ad infinitum.


complicated

The range of conjunctions

The difference between coordinator and subordinators is actually a rather more complicated matter than the analysis so far has revealed.

There is, in fact a cline between those that we can consider true coordinators and those which can only ever be used as subordinators.  There are a number of criteria for identifying the nature of coordinators which are discussed in the guide to coordination.

In some analyses, there are the following coordinating conjunctions:
and, or, but, so, for (in its meaning of because), yet, nor and so that.
All other conjunctions are either correlative or subordinators.
The guide to coordination makes it clear, however, that only and, or and but (probably) meet the criteria for true coordinators and the rest are in some way defective.

The true picture is more like:

coordination and subordination



Related guides
coordination to consider how clauses of equal weight are joined
subordination to consider how unequal or dependent clauses are joined
conjunction for an overview of the ways clauses can be linked
adverbials a guide explaining adjuncts, disjuncts and conjuncts