A conjunction is a word that grammatically connects two words, phrases, or clauses together. The most common examples are words like “and” and “but.”
For example, “I took the subway, and got off at 96th Street.” Or, “I took the subway, but there was a delay.” However, conjunctions can come in many forms with many different functions.
They’re a part of speech that can be broken down into several categories, and we’ll explore each one in depth with examples.
Conjunctions can primarily be broken down into three categories:
Coordinating conjunctions always come between two clauses in order to connect them. These are two ideas that are related and can therefore be placed into one longer sentence.
A coordinating conjunction is a conjunction like “and” and “but.” It joins together words, phrases, or clauses that are grammatically equal. The seven coordinating conjunctions are:
You can remember these conjunctions using the acronym FANBOYS. These are all very useful constructions to improve the flow and fluency of language.
The seven coordinating conjunctions can be remembered using the acronym: FANBOYS
shows reason or purpose (sometimes because can be used instead)
- I go to the library, for I love to read.
While the word “so” introduces the “effect” part of a cause-and-effect relationship, the word “for” introduces the cause.
- My husband and I went to Costa Rica, for it was our five-year anniversary.
- The neighborhood had a memorial last weekend, for a family’s son had passed away.
Using the word “for” like this, however, can sound a bit formal and unnatural in spoken English. Instead, it’s better to use subordinating conjunctions like “because” or “since,” which we’ll discuss later. Meanwhile, the word “for” can take different usages as a preposition, not a conjunction. For example:
- What are you doing for New Year’s?
- Is this gift for me or someone else?
- I’ve been living in Los Angeles for about six months.
Although you may have been taught otherwise, it’s often acceptable for a sentence to begin with a coordinating conjunction, as long as it forms a continuity with the sentences preceding it.
When used in writing, in fact, it can often feel more natural to begin a sentence with “and” or “but” instead of forcing separate sentences together with a comma. For example:
- Sometimes, Jack can come off as a bit insensitive, but I know he means well.
- Sometimes, Jack can come off as a bit insensitive. But I know he means well. (Also a valid use of the word “but”)
- The sushi restaurant down the street is the best I’ve ever been to. And it was a good deal.
connects two or more ideas
- I like to eat cookies, and I like to drink milk.
The conjunction “and” is used to join two or more items that make sense with each other.
- I put mayonnaise and mustard in this sandwich.
- My friend likes to go mountain-climbing and swim in the ocean.
- My mom was born in the U.S., and my dad was born in Switzerland.
It can also be used to connect a series of events.
- Everyday after school, I go to the library and study.
- The president arrived and gave an hour-long speech.
If you want to list several items, use commas and the word “and” at the very end (the Oxford comma is optional).
- I wasted so much time, energy, and money on that trip.
- The dog barked, growled and scratched until his owner let him back in the house.
shows a non-contrasting, negative idea. Adds more negativity.
- I refuse to hug to people I don’t know, nor will I kiss them.
While “and” is used to join two positive items together, the conjunction “nor” is used to pair two negative items. It’s found either with the word “not” or with the word “neither.”
- He didn’t return my calls, nor did he respond to any of my texts.
- Neither the yoga nor the running made my back feel any better.
- I didn’t think that it would snow so early in the year, nor did the weather forecast.
Note the word inversion that often accompanies this conjunction.
shows contrast or exception.
- Sheila likes soup, but sometimes she orders something different.
The conjunction “but” is used to join two items that contradict each other or create a certain tension with each other.
- The dress was beautiful but slightly expensive.
- I put a lot of effort into the assignment, but I couldn’t even get an A.
- My mom doesn’t like to cook, but she does it anyway.
A common usage of the word “but” is in the construction “not…but.” You can also use the word “rather” to emphasize the contrast in the statement.
- It wasn’t a bird but a squirrel that’s been ravaging the garden.
- Strawberries aren’t actually berries but rather an “accessory fruit.”
shows choice or option.
- He could go to the bar, or he could go to work.
The conjunction “or” can be used to present two or more options. It’s often paired with the word “either.”
- Do you like chocolate or vanilla better?
- He’s either flirting with me or just acts unusually nice to me.
- You can come buy groceries with me, or you can stay home until I get back.
also shows contrast or exception.
- He had been crying all day, yet the man made him laugh.
The conjunction “yet” is very similar to “but.” It means something like “nevertheless” or “but at the same time.”
- He can be strict yet understanding at the same time.
- The sauce was sweet yet had a spicy flavor to it.
- I got a new prescription for my glasses, yet my vision is still a bit blurry.
Don’t get this conjunction mixed up with the other usage of the word “yet.” For example:
- Did she call you back yet?
- Is your roommate awake yet?
- The lady was feeling ill, so she went home to bed.
If you want to express a cause-and-effect relationship, you can use the conjunction “so.” It introduces a clause that is the effect of a previous clause.
- It was the week before Christmas, so the mall was unusually hectic.
- The traffic is a bit heavy on the main road, so try taking a residential detour instead.
- The mistake was already made, so there’s not much you can do about it now.
Notice that the word “so” can be used to justify a suggestion or command. It can also be used to explain the basis of a question. For example:
- My dog gets a bit rowdy sometimes, so put him in his cage when you need to.
- All the bars are closed by now, so what do you want to do instead?
Another usage of the conjunction “so” is to introduce a new idea or change the subject, whether this has a cause-and-effect relationship or not. For example:
- So, what do you want to talk about now?
- So, how has your day been?
Be careful not to mix up the coordinating conjunction “so” with other usages of the word “so.” For example:
- The line was so long we bailed within the first five minutes.
- “Is it going to be warmer tomorrow?” “I think so.”
- I hid the presents so that the rest of my family wouldn’t find them.