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Conjunctions and How to Use Them

Vocabulary Tips: Conjunctions and How to Use Them

Even if you’re not sure what conjunctions are, you probably use them on a daily basis. They are, in fact, essential to forming most sentence types.

As such, it pays to know how different kinds of conjunction work. To help, we’ve prepared this handy guide so that you can use them effectively in your written work.

Coordinating Conjunctions

The most common conjunctions are coordinating conjunctions, which connect words, phrases or clauses in a sentence. There are seven coordinating conjunctions in English, which you can remember with the acronym ‘fanboys’:

  • For (e.g. I will go now, for I have an urgent mission.)
  • And (e.g. I am a spy and a lover.)
  • Nor (e.g. I cannot fail, nor do I want to.)
  • But (e.g. I want to stay at the casino, but I need to catch the villain.)
  • Or (e.g. My options are victory or death!)
  • Yet (e.g. The life of an international spy is dangerous yet exciting.)
  • So (e.g. I fight the bad guys so you don’t have to.)

All of these can be used to join two independent clauses (i.e. statements that could work as sentences by themselves). In this case, a comma is usually given before the conjunction.

When used to join words or phrases within a clause, no comma is needed. They can also be used at the start of a sentence to indicate a connection to the previous sentence.

Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions connect independent and dependent clauses, as well as indicating the relationship between the clauses. For instance:

The bad guys hate me because I’m such a good spy.

Here, the subordinating conjunction ‘because’ is used to introduce a reason (i.e. being a good spy) for the main clause (i.e. being hated by the bad guys).

Deadly, too.
(Image: Themeplus/flickr)

Subordinating conjunctions have various uses. Common examples include terms like ‘although’, ‘before’ and ‘unless’. We won’t list them all here, but make sure to choose the correct word for what you’re trying to express.

Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions are pairs of words that join similar parts of a sentence. These include:

  • Either… or… (e.g. We either need a plan or a lot of luck.)
  • Neither… nor… (e.g. Neither the villain nor his henchmen can stop me!)
  • Both… and… (e.g. I am outstanding at both spying and drinking martinis.)
  • Not only… but also… (e.g. I am not only a great spy, but also a keen gardener.)

Notice that the terms connected here are of the same type (i.e. noun + noun or verb + verb). This is important for grammatical parallelism.

Conjunctive Adverbs

Finally, we have conjunctive adverbs. These are not conjunctions, but they are used to link sentences in a similar way. For example:

Being a spy is dangerous; however, it’s also great fun.

As a spy, I have many gadgets. I am, therefore, prepared for any situation.

These provide an alternative if you need to vary the terms in your work. Just make sure you pick the right one for what you want to express!

We’re off to do some spying now. See you next time!
(Photo: William Warby/flickr)

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