If the word “conjunctions” brings to mind a certain Schoolhouse Rock video, you aren’t alone. Thanks to the timeless cartoon song, we can get a basic overview of conjunctions and their functions. Conjunction Junction is a basic overview, but if you’re writing for work, school, or pleasure, it’s important to have a deeper understanding of exactly how conjunctions work. It’s also important to know the differences between coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions.
In simple terms, a conjunction is a word that connects other words, phrases, or clauses. These are the words that help us make our sentences longer and more complex. Conjunctions are important because reading nothing but simple sentences gets boring quickly. Think of stories like See Spot Run or the Dick and Jane primers. That’s no fun! We want to engage the people reading our work, no matter whether we’re writing a novel, a term paper, or a business proposal. Conjunctions help us do this.
This article will help you understand everything there is to know about using coordinating conjunctions. But first, we need to understand the difference between coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions.
Coordinating conjunctions connect words, phrases, and clauses that are of equal value to the sentence. The clauses that are connected by coordinating conjunctions are called independent clauses.
Subordinating conjunctions connect clauses and phrases that have a relationship. These clauses somehow depend on one another; they are dependent clauses. Subordinating conjunctions include words like because, while, as, and since, to name a few.
The 7 Coordinating Conjunctions
The good news about coordinating conjunctions is that there are only seven you need to remember. They are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Together, they spell the acronym FANBOYS. Let’s look at each of them and how to use them.
For can be used as either a preposition or a conjunction. When used as a conjunction, it loosely means because or seeing as. For is typically used in more formal writing.
- I will overcome this obstacle, for I am not weak.
- Do not walk through the neighborhood alone, for it is not safe after dark.
And is a conjunction with multiple purposes. It shows addition or quantity when listing items. It can also be used much like the subordinating conjunction then or also, but only when the phrases or clauses are equally important.
- I ate eggs and bacon at brunch.
- We went to the store and the flea market.
Nor is used in negative phrases. It can show subtraction or exception in a series of words or phrases. In these cases, it is often accompanied by the word neither. It can also continue the emphasis of a preceding negative phrase. If the preceding clause or phrase includes a negative word like not or never, nor can make the sentence more poignant.
- He is neither hungry nor thirsty.
- I will not support the proposed measure, nor will the rest of my community.
But is a common little word that means many things. As a conjunction, it can mean yet or on the contrary. It can mean except, unless, and if not. Again, it replaces these words by emphasizing parts of sentences equally instead of conditionally. That’s what makes it a coordinating conjunction.
- Mary loved her little lamb, but she couldn’t take it to school.
- The little boy loves swimming but hates taking baths.
We can use or in a lot of ways. It can connect words or phrases. It can connect lists of alternatives. Or can show correlation and clarification. Sometimes, it means otherwise.
- Would you prefer coffee or tea?
- Be ready to leave by ten a.m., or we’ll leave without you.
While several of the coordinating conjunctions have a myriad of uses, yet is a lot simpler. It means though, still, or nevertheless. However, if you are using yet to talk about time or an amount (e.g. yet another hour), that’s not a coordinating conjunction. In those cases, yet is an adverb.
- The play had a great beginning, yet it fell flat in Act Three.
- My terrier fears other dogs yet loves my sister’s poodle.
So is a special conjunction because it can be both coordinating and subordinating. To know which role so is playing, you must determine the types of clauses it’s connecting. If the two clauses are equal, as in two independent clauses, so is acting as a coordinating conjunction. In this case, so can often be replaced by therefore. If so connects an independent and dependent clause, it is a subordinating conjunction.
- My cat was hungry, so I fed her.
- I am allergic to wheat, so I can’t eat that sandwich.
Using Coordinating Conjunctions
The way you structure your sentence affects how you use coordinating conjunctions. The rules regarding punctuation vary, and sentence structure is the main determiner.
You can use coordinating conjunctions to connect two words, whether they are nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. You do not need commas in this case.
Nouns: Would you like brownies or cupcakes for dessert?
Verbs: The dolphins chirped and dove into the water.
Adjectives: It was small but deadly.
Adverbs: We will walk quickly yet quietly to exit the building.
When connecting two phrases of equal value, a comma is also unnecessary before the coordinating conjunction. For example:
I picked up my son from gymnastics and my daughter from soccer.
Commas are necessary when coordinating conjunctions connect two independent clauses. The comma will always go before the coordinating conjunction, not after.
- I love to eat ice cream, yet I am lactose intolerant.
- My sister told me about almond milk ice cream, so I went to the store to find some.
- I was surprised to find it tasted great, and it was very affordable.
The sentence structure for these types of sentences will always be independent clause + comma + coordinating conjunction + independent clause. Remember, this is only for coordinating conjunctions. The rules for subordinating conjunctions and commas are different.
The Oxford Comma Debate
There are few grammar issues more divisive than the Oxford comma or serial comma. This is the comma that comes before a coordinating conjunction in a list of three or more items. Here is an example:
I ate eggs, bacon, and orange juice for breakfast.
See that little comma after bacon? That’s an Oxford comma. It is not required to be there. It’s more commonly used in American English than British English, and it is considered more of a modern trend. Depending on when you went to school, you might have learned that you don’t need the comma before and.
- I will wear blue, black, or purple tomorrow.
- I will wear blue, black or purple tomorrow.
Both are correct! This is a stylistic choice for writers or editors. If you’re writing for work or school, be sure to check your style guide for its preference on the Oxford comma.
Coordinating Conjunctions: Not Just for the Middle of the Sentence
Your grade-school teachers might have told you to never start a sentence with and or but. But you can start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction! Just make sure that everything that follows the conjunction makes a complete sentence instead of being a sentence fragment.
Now that you know all about coordinating conjunctions, go forth and write with plenty of sentence variety!