Conjunctions: how to identify and understand them

It is natural that when two or more separate things are to be joined, you need a link that fits. This is what conjunctions do—linking phrases, clauses, and sentences. They join units that are either dependent (that cannot stand alone) or independent (that can stand alone). Conjunctions are also called connectives.

Examples: and, or, but, although, for, when, which, etc.

Conjunctions are divided into subordinating, coordinating and correlative.

Subordinating conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions are used to link independent and dependent clauses. Think of a subordinating conjunction as a link between a boss and his subordinate in an office; while a boss is independent in taking decisions because he’s the head, his subordinate depends on him. Thus, subordinating conjunctions connect the subordinate clause (dependent) to the main clause (independent) because the former cannot stand alone.


  1. I left his house because he insulted me.
  2. Although it would be a tough decision, he’d come.
  3. While you wait, read the following instructions carefully.
  4.  This is the woman who broke the record.

Other words in this category include until, after, before, even if, whether, wherever, unless, since, rather than, provided that, whereas, as long as, as soon as, except that, in order that, etc.

Note that when a subordinate clause starts a sentence, there is usually a pause, so use a comma (as in 3 above). This is unlike:

  1. Read the following instructions carefully while you wait.

Coordinating conjunctions
Coordinating conjunctions are used to link units of equal importance. Think of this as a coordinator of an event who oversees the activities of people on the same mission. These conjunctions join words, phrases, or sentences of equal status.


  1. I bought a bottle of wine and yogurt.
  2. We can go or stay behind.
  3. It was a loud voice, yet it was inaudible.

In the first two examples, we mean:

  1. I bought a bottle of wine and I bought a bottle of yogurt.
  2. We can go or we can stay behind.

However, we don’t normally write or speak this way to avoid unnecessary repetition. Thus, the two parts are of equal status.

Other words in this category are: nor, so, for, but.

When a coordinating conjunction joins independent clauses (as in 3 above), use a comma, but when it involves a single word in the second part (as in 1) or a phrase (as in 2) that cannot stand alone, don’t use it.

Correlating conjunctions
Correlating conjunctions are words used together to connect units of an expression. When things correlate, there is a relationship between them, so these type of conjunctions go together like relatives. They are either/or, neither/nor, not only/but also, etc.


  1. You either love him or hate him.
  2. Neither his teacher nor his father ignored him.
  3. He not only escaped assassination but also won the election.

Other are such/that, no sooner/than, rather/than, etc.

Note that some correlative conjunctions may be found in other types of conjunction. The distinctiveness of this category is that it uses words in pairs, unlike other categories.

On the whole, conjunctions are relationship words, they connect different parts.

Starting a sentence with a conjunction

Have you been told you should not start a sentence with a conjunction? Well, there are no grammatical rules against it. However, don’t overuse it.

Writers usually use conjunctions at the beginning of an expression to create specific effects or emphases.


  1. Who says we can’t do without corruption? And how has corruption helped us?
  2. But didn’t you see him coming with the file?



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