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The Correlative Conjunction in English Grammar

Traditional grammars defined the conjunction as a word that “links together other words, phrases, and clauses.” Correlative conjunctions are a type of conjunction that work together in pairs with coordinating conjunctions to link linguistic constituents such as words, phrases, and clauses of equal weight. Correlative conjunctions perform the grammatical function of correlator. Correlative-coordinating conjunction pairs join two words, phrases, or clauses.

The first word or words of the following pairs of conjunctions are correlative conjunctions:

  • both … and
  • either … or
  • neither … nor
  • whether … or
  • not only … but also

Of the previous pairs of correlative-coordinating conjunctions, the first word or words is the correlative conjunction. The second word or words are coordinating conjunctions. Correlative conjunctions appear only in pairs with coordinating conjunctions.

Using Correlative Conjunctions

Prescriptive grammars require that the linguistic constituents linked by a correlative-coordinating conjunction pairs be of the same grammatical form. For example, the following sentences contain correlative and coordinating conjunctions that join equal constituents:

  • She is both extroverted and shy.
  • You may either ride the bus or walk to school. (verb phrases)
  • Neither the rains stopped nor the gloom lifted. (verb clauses)

However, native English speakers often use correlative-coordinating conjunction pairs to join different grammatical forms. For example, the following sentences contain correlative and coordinating conjunctions that join unequal constituents:

  • He screams both loudly and like a girl. (adverb and prepositional phrase)
  • The shoes were neither inexpensive nor on sale. (adjective and prepositional phrase)
  • Either the cat broke the plate, or the glass was broken by the dog. (active voice and passive voice)

Correlative conjunctions are conjunctions that work together in pairs with coordinating conjunctions to link linguistic constituents such as words, phrases, and clauses of equal weight. Prescriptive grammars require that the linguistic constituents linked by pairs of correlative-coordinating conjunction be of the same grammatical form; however, English speakers often join different grammatical forms with correlative and coordinating conjunctions.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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