Some words are satisfied spending an evening at home, alone, eating ice-cream right out of the box, watching Seinfeld re-runs on TV, or reading a good book. Others aren’t happy unless they’re out on the town, mixing it up with other words; they’re joiners and they just can’t help themselves. A conjunction is a joiner, a word that connects (conjoins) parts of a sentence.
The simple, little conjunctions are called coordinating conjunctions (you can click on the words to see specific descriptions of each one): and, but, or, yet, for, nor, so.
(It may help you remember these conjunctions by recalling that they all have fewer than four letters. Also, remember the acronym FANBOYS: For-And-Nor-But-Or-Yet-So. Be careful of the words thenand now; neither is a coordinating conjunction, so what we say about coordinating conjunctions’ roles in a sentence and punctuation does not apply to those two words.)
Here are some examples of coordinating conjunctions in English and what they do:
presents a reason (“He is gambling with his health, for he has been smoking far too long.”).
presents non-contrasting item(s) or idea(s) (“They gamble, and they smoke.”).
presents a non-contrasting negative idea (“They do not gamble nor do they smoke.”).
presents a contrast or exception (“They gamble, but they don’t smoke.”).
presents an alternative item or idea (“Every day they gamble or they smoke.”).
presents a contrast or exception (“They gamble, yet they don’t smoke.”).
presents a consequence (“He gambled well last night so he smoked a cigar to celebrate.”).
Correlative conjunctions work in pairs to join words and groups of words of equal weight in a sentence. There are six different pairs of correlative conjunctions:
2. not only…but (also)
3. neither…nor (or increasingly neither…or)
6. just as…so
• You either do your work or prepare for a trip to the office.
• Not only is he handsome, but he is also brilliant.
• Neither the basketball team nor the football team is doing well.
• Both the cross country team and the swimming team are doing well.
• Whether you stay or you go, it’s your decision.
• Just as many Australians love cricket, so many Canadians love ice hockey.
Subordinating conjunctions, also called subordinators, are conjunctions that conjoin an independent clause and a dependent clause. The most common subordinating conjunctions in the English language includeafter, although, as, as far as, as if, as long as, as soon as, as though, because, before, if, inorderthat, since, so, sothat, than, though, unless, until, when, whenever, where, where as, wherever, and while. Complementizers can be considered to be special subordinating conjunctions that introduce complement clauses (e.g., “I wonder whether he’ll be late. I hope that he’ll be on time”). Some subordinating conjunctions (until and while), when used to introduce a phrase instead of a full clause, become prepositions with identical meanings.
In many verb-final languages, subordinate clauses must precede the main clause on which they depend. The equivalents to the subordinating conjunctions of non-verb-final languages such as English are either
• clause-final conjunctions (e.g., in Japanese); or
• suffixes attached to the verb and not separate words
Such languages in fact often lack conjunctions as a part of speech because:
1. the form of the verb used is formally nominalised and cannot occur in an independent clause
2. the clause-final conjunction or suffix attached to the verb is actually formally a marker of case and is also used on nouns to indicate certain functions. In this sense, the subordinate clauses of these languages have much in common with postpositional phrases.
In other West-Germanic languages like German or Dutch, the word order after a subordinating conjunction is different from the one in an independent clause, e.g., in Dutch want (for) is coordinating, butomdat (because) is subordinating. The clause after the coordinating conjunction has normal word order, but the clause after the subordinating conjunction has verb-final word order. Compare:
Hij gaat naar huis, want hij is ziek. (“He goes home, for he is ill.”)
Hij gaat naar huis, omdat hij ziek is. (“He goes home because he is ill.”)
Similarly, in German, “denn” (for) is coordinating, but “weil” (because) is subordinating:
Er geht nach Hause, denn er ist krank. (“He goes home, for he is ill.”)
Er geht nach Hause, weil er krank ist. (“He goes home because he is ill.”)
• Cohesion (linguistics)
• Conjunctive adverb
• Conjunctive mood, sometimes used with conjunctions
• List of common English usage misconceptions
• Logical conjunction
• On a white bus
• Serial comma – the comma used immediately before a coordinating conjunction preceding the final item in a list of three or more items
When a coordinating conjunction connects two independent clauses, it is often (but not always) accompanied by a comma:
• Ulysses wants to play for UConn, but he has had trouble meeting the academic requirements.
When the two independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction are nicely balanced or brief, many writers will omit the comma:
• Ulysses has a great jump shot but he isn’t quick on his feet.
The comma is always correct when used to separate two independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction. See Punctuation Between Two Independent Clauses for further help.
A comma is also correct when and is used to attach the last item of a serial list, although many writers (especially in newspapers) will omit that final comma:
• Ulysses spent his summer studying basic math, writing, and reading comprehension.
When a coordinating conjunction is used to connect all the elements in a series, a comma is not used:
• Presbyterians and Methodists and Baptists are the prevalent Protestant congregations in Oklahoma.
A comma is also used with but when expressing a contrast:
• This is a useful rule, but difficult to remember.
In most of their other roles as joiners (other than joining independent clauses, that is), coordinating conjunctions can join two sentence elements without the help of a comma.
• Hemingway and Fitzgerald are among the American expatriates of the between-the-wars era.
• Hemingway was renowned for his clear style and his insights into American notions of male identity.
• It is hard to say whether Hemingway or Fitzgerald is the more interesting cultural icon of his day.
• Although Hemingway is sometimes disparaged for his unpleasant portrayal of women and for his glorification of machismo, we nonetheless find some sympathetic, even heroic, female figures in his novels and short stories.
1. ^ University of Chicago (2010). The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.). Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press. p. 257. ISBN 978-0-226-10420-1.
2. ^ Greenblatt, Stephen (2006). The Norton Anthology of British Literature, 8th Ed. Vol. D. New York: Norton. p. 478.
3. ^ Paul; Adams, Michael (2009). How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction (2nd ed.). New York: Pearson Longman. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-205-60550-7
4. ^ Merriam-webster.com
5. ^ Algeo, John (2006). British or American English? A Handbook of Word and Grammar Patterns. Cambridge Univ. Press.
6. ^ Burchfield, R. W., ed. (1996). Fowler’s Modern English Usage (3rd ed.).
7. ^ Dryer, Matthew S. (2005). “Order of adverbial subordinator and clause”. In Haspelmath, Martin; Dryer, Matthew S.; Gil, David; Comrie, Bernard. The World Atlas of Language Structures. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-199-25591-1.
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