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GEN 100

Writing Workshop


Conjunctions are used to join words, clauses, sentences, or blocks of text such as paragraphs in specific logical manners.

The most important feature of conjunctions is that they make clear the relationship between the words/word groups. For example, read these two sentences:

I watched the movie. Frank was with me.

What is the relationship between these two sentences? It could be anything. Maybe I watched the movie because Frank was with me; I didn't like it, but because he did, I watched it also.

I watched the movie because Frank was with me.

Or perhaps Frank didn't like the movie:

I watched the movie even though Frank was with me.

Maybe the relationship is about time:

I watched the movie while Frank was with me.

Maybe Frank was with me because I was watching the movie:

I watched the movie, so Frank was with me.

Or perhaps, these two things just happened together without a special connection:

I watched the movie, and Frank was with me.

It is also possible to use the two sentences as they were in the first example, with no conjunction. That would be similar to using the conjunction "and."

The main point to understand here is that conjunctions show the relationship between different groups of words. The conjunctions can define a relationship that was not clear, or they can make an apparent relationship more clear:

I live in the countryside. I have a car.
I live in the countryside, so I have a car.

In the second example, "so" is used to show a cause-and-effect relationship between the two facts. However, the relationship was fairly clear without the conjunction. In this case, the conjunction changed it from a possible relationship to a certain relationship.

A rule to remember: conjunctions are about showing the relationship between items when that relationship is not already 100% clear. If the relationship is perfectly clear without the conjunction, it is not necessary to use one.

Remember: not all sentences require a conjunction! A common error is to use conjunctions in every sentence, which is usually far too much. Make sure you know why you use a conjunction every time.

Types of Conjunctions

There are four types of conjunctions:

  • Coordinating conjunctions: used within a sentence, to join words, phrases, or clauses. When joining clauses, the two clauses are both independent.
  • Subordinating conjunctions: used within a sentence to join an dependent adverbial clause with an independent clause. The conjunction usually appears at the beginning of the dependent clause. When the dependent clause begins the sentence, the clause is followed by a comma.
  • Correlative conjunctions: joins two equal words or goups of words in a sentence; the correlative conjunction begins both parts.
  • Conjunctive adverbs (logical connectors): connect sentences, parts of a paragraph, paragraphs, or groups of paragraphs. NOTE: these are not conjunctions; they are adverbs. However, they perform almost the same function; the connect sentences, groups of sentences, paragraphs, or groups of paragraphs.

Here are examples of each. The square brackets show if the conjunctions stand by themselves or if they are associated with any structure.

Coordinating conjunctions:

Thomas went to the store, [and] he ate dinner at the restaurant.
Thomas went to the store [and] to the restaurant.
Thomas went to the store [and] the restaurant.

Note that the first example shows two clauses being joined, the next shows two prepositional phrases being joined, and the final example shows two nouns (noun phrases) being joined.

Note: many people begin sentences with coordinating conjunctions, using the conjunction to join two sentences. While this is common, it is considered bad style in writing academic English. Even if you see me use coordinating conjunctions that way, you should not do so in an assignment. And I am serious!

Subordinating conjunctions:

[Because it is raining], I brought an umbrella.
I brought an umbrella [because it is raining].

Conjunctive adverbs (logical connectors):

It is raining. [Therefore, I brought an umbrella.]
I failed the math class. [My mother, consequently, was very disappointed.]
Franklin did not finish his homework on time. [Marilyn finished hers early, however.]

Note that while conjunctive adverbs can appear in many places within the sentence, they usually appear at the beginning. It is best to use them at the beginning unless you have a special reason to do otherwise.

Note also that conjunctive adverbs can be used to join larger portions of text:

Jonathan gets $24 an hour for relatively easy work. Jane gets $22 an hour for working a bit harder. Because she is a professional, Mary gets $100 per hour. I only get paid $10 an hour for really hard work. As a result, I don't tell any of them what my wages are.

Note that the last sentence with the conjunctive adverb connects that one sentence with all four sentences before it.

Japan and China have an unfortunate recent history. In the mid-20th century, Japan invaded China, and many Chinese people were harmed as a result. Chinese people remember these facts well, but many Japanese do not learn the details, and do not consider this history as very important.

As a result, there are many difficulties with relations between the two countries. Political dealings are poisoned by Japan's reluctance to apologize. Some Japanese visitors to China encounter harsh feelings from its citizens. I myself have seen Japanese college students in America shocked at how angry Chinese students become at them.

In the above example, the conjunctive adverb "as a result" shows the relationship between the first whole paragraph with the second whole paragraph. All sentences in the first paragraph combine to make the cause, and all the sentences in the second paragraph are effects of that cause.

Correlative conjunctions:

I am neither angry at my friend nor am I happy with him.
I am neither angry at my friend nor happy with him.
I am neither angry at nor happy with my friend.
I have neither anger nor happiness regarding my friend.

Conjunction Chart

Here is a chart showing different conjunctions, their types, and the relationships they show:

coordinating conjunctions subordinating conjunction conjunctive adverb
(logical connector)
correlative conjunctions
Addition and
in addition
in addition
above all
most of all
what is more
as well*
neither ... nor
not only ... but also
Similarity   as
just as
in the same way
Contrast / Comparison but
even though
despite the fact that
Alternate or or else
on the other hand
either ... or
Exemplification   [ "like" and "such as" are prepositions ] for example
for instance
in particular
for one thing
to illustrate
Time, Place, and Order   when
now that
as long as
until / till
first of all
up till now
at this/that point
in the end
last but not least
Cause / Result / Reason so
so that
in order that
due to the fact that
Condition / Consequence   if...(then/else)
if only
even if
as [far/soon/etc.] as
that being so
in that case
whether ... or (not)
coordinating conjunctions subordinating conjunction conjunctive adverb
(logical connector)
Correlative Conjunctions

* these do not appear at the beginning of a sentence, and usually appear at the end
** "besides" infers non-essential addition
when used in a dependent clause after an independent clause, a comma may be used before it
cannot be used to begin a sentence