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The Bridge: Conjunction


On most initial training courses, the term conjunction will have been discussed and a definition provided.  On some, the term conjunct may have been mentioned and on many a distinction will have been made between coordination and subordination.
That's a good beginning.

We'll start with our definition and work from there.  Here it is:

A conjunction is a word or phrase used to connect clauses or to connect phrases or words in the same clause

They key term here is connect and the word conjunction itself derives from the Latin coniunctionem the noun from the past-participle of coniugare, meaning join together.

? All these examples sentences contain a conjunction of one sort or another.  Your task is to:
    a) identify them
    b) to divide them into three types
drawing on the information gathered from your first training course, and/or on your mastery of English.
Click on the eye open at the end to see if we agree.
  1. He came because he wanted to talk to her
  2. I went to London and Paris
  3. She sold the car so that she had enough money to buy the house
  4. I went to London but didn't visit him
  5. They are as dumb as they are stubborn
  6. They came home tired yet happy
  7. She neither wants to come with us nor stay alone in the house
  8. He will be at home when she is at work
  9. They not only want more money but they have delayed finishing the work

Click eye open when you have an answer.

What follows is partial and partially correct in some cases but will function as an introduction to a complex area.  For more detail and precision, use the links at the end.


Three types of conjunction and their main characteristics

  1. Coordinating conjunctions
    1. Meaning: they serve to connect ideas of equal significance.  For example:
      1. She came but she left almost immediately
      2. I can take a taxi or a bus
      3. I looked yet it couldn't be found
      4. John wants to borrow some money for he needs a new car
      5. She is studying and working in a bar to make some money
      6. The wind was very strong so that I could hardly stand
      7. I don't want to see him, nor does he want to see me, I expect
    2. Function:
      Adversative: examples i. and iii.
      Exclusive: example ii.
      Purpose: example iv.
      Result: example vi.
      Addition: examples v. and vii.
    3. Form:
      Coordinating conjunction may only come between the items they link.  Placing them at the beginning of sentences results in nonsense such as:
          *But she came she left almost immediately
      The conjunction nor requires an inversion of subject and verb or the introduction or the do operator as in a question form.
    4. Notes:
      Some of these, such as and, yet and but can join clauses, phrases or single words.  Others, such as so that and for can only join clauses.
      The conjunction so that is much more common as a subordinator of purpose and less common in its role here as a coordinator of result.
      Some of these, for example, nor, yet and for are formal in use.
      The conjunction nor is more frequently part of the correlating conjunction neither ... nor.
  2. Subordinating conjunctions
    1. Meaning: they serve to connect ideas of unequal significance with one clause dependent on another.  For example:
      1.     She will come although she has very little time
      2.     They ate a huge breakfast ham while I ate nothing at all
      3.     I always took the bus when I worked in London
      4.     John wants to borrow some money because he needs a new car
      5.     She is studying as if her life depended on the examination
      6.     The dogs sleep where they like
      7.     I don't want to see him if he is only going to be rude
    2. Function:
      Concession: example i.
      Comparison: example ii.
      Time: example iii.
      Reason / purpose: example iv.
      Manner: example v.
      Place: example vi.
      Condition: example vii.
    3. Form:
      Subordinating conjunctions may move with the clause to which they are attached and need not come between the items they connect.  So we can have:
          Because she wanted to meet Mary's father, she came to the party
          She came to the party because she wanted to meet Mary's father
      Subordinating conjunctions join clauses only.
    4. Notes:
      There are many more subordinating conjunctions than either of the other two classes.
      Some subordinating conjunctions also function as prepositions so in:
          I came after I had finished the work
      the word after is a conjunction, but in:
          I came after lunch
      the word is a preposition.
  3. Correlating conjunctions:
    1. Meaning: they can be coordinators or subordinators but serve to connect in two parts:
      1.     She not only came, but she brought her brother
      2.     You can either come with us or take a taxi later
      3.     If you don't help, then the work won't get done
      4.     No sooner had she arrived than she started to complain
      5.     Both John and Peter were there
    2. Function:
      There are various functions of both coordination and subordination.  In these examples, we have:
      Additive coordination: examples i. and v.
      Exclusive coordination: example ii.
      Conditional subordination: example iii.
      Temporal subordination: example iv.
    3. Form:
      The negative conjunctions, especially of time, require the inversion of subject and verb or the use of the do operator as in, e.g.:
          Barely had I started to eat when the telephone rang.
      Some of these, such as both ... and and if ... then are emphatic versions of simpler conjunctions.
    4. Notes:
      Correlating conjunctions are somewhat rare and often formal in English but other languages use them quite extensively so, in Chinese languages, for example, both so and because co-occur and learners may produce:
          *Because I wanted to buy it so I took money from the bank.
? To make sure you have this clear before we go on, try a short matching test.


Wheels within wheels: types of sentences

The types of sentences which are made by the use of conjunctions linking clauses are of three main sorts:

  1. Compound:
    Coordination produces compound sentences such as:
        She wanted to come to the party and meet my brother
        I called but you weren't at home
  2. Complex sentences are produced by subordination as in, for example:
        She was happy although she had very little money
        It was expensive so I felt a little guilty about buying it.
  3. Compound-complex sentences are produced when both types of conjunction are used together as in, e.g.:
        The work was expensive but it was well done and worth the money
        The book was interesting and it was very informative but it was a little difficult to understand as the author provided too much detail
    As you see, combinations of three or more clauses are possible when making compound-complex sentences in particular.

Compound-complex sentences become difficult to understand when the subordinate clause is embedded within a coordinated set of clause, like this:
    He came because he wanted to meet her but he was disappointed when she wasn't there.

Such sentences need to be carefully unpacked into the constituent parts for lower level learners or they will make no sense.  Like this:
    He came.
    He wanted to meet her
BUT ...
    He was disappointed
    She wasn't there

If that's all clear enough to you, you can go on to the guides below (on the right).  If you still feel slightly confused, try the links on the left.


Guides in other areas
Initial plus essential guides In-service guides
essential sentence grammar conjunction
essentials of conjunctions subordination and coordination