Conjunctions are traditionally defined as words that link together other words, phrases, and clauses. The English language contains three grammatical forms of conjunctions that perform three grammatical functions. The three forms of conjunctions in English are:
- Coordinating conjunctions
- Correlative conjunctions
- Subordinating conjunctions
The three functions of conjunctions in English are:
Conjunctions are traditionally defined as “words that link words, phrases, and clauses.” Conjunctions belong to a closed class of function words.
The first grammatical form of conjunctions is the coordinating conjunction. Coordinating conjunctions are defined as words that link or coordinate two or more linguistic constituents such as words, phrases, and clauses. Coordinating conjunctions perform the grammatical function of coordinator. Coordinators join or link two or more words, phrases, and clauses. The seven coordinating conjunctions in English are:
Prescriptive grammars require that the linguistic constituents linked by a coordinating conjunction be of the same grammatical form. For example, the following sentences contain coordinating conjunctions that join equal constituents:
- The library and the student center are open late. (noun phrases)
- You may walk, jog, or run. (verbs)
- The weather is lovely, so the weatherman was wrong. (clauses)
However, native English speakers often use coordinating conjunctions to join different grammatical forms. For example, the following sentences contain coordinating conjunctions that join unequal constituents:
- He screams loudly and like a girl. (adverb and prepositional phrase)
- The shoes must be inexpensive or on sale. (adjective and prepositional phrase)
- The cat broke the plate, but the glass was broken by the dog. (active voice and passive voice)
*The conjunction for is not commonly used in either spoken or written Modern English.
The second grammatical form of conjunctions is the correlative conjunction. Correlative conjunctions are defined as the first word or words in pairs of conjunctions that also link or coordinate two or more linguistic constituents. Correlative conjunctions perform the grammatical function of correlator. For example, 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
The second word or words in the previous pairs of conjunctions are coordinating conjunctions. Correlative conjunctions only appear in pairs with coordinating conjunctions.
Prescriptive grammars again require that the linguistic constituents linked by pairs of correlative and coordinating conjunctions be of the same grammatical form. For example, the following sentences contain pairs of correlative and coordinating conjunctions that join equal constituents:
- Both the dog and the cat like to drink milk. (noun phrases)
- Students must either write a report or read another book for the final project. (verb phrases)
- Not only do I hate chili but I also hate beans. (clauses)
The third grammatical form of conjunctions is the subordinating conjunction. Subordinating conjunctions are defined as words that introduce a dependent or subordinate clause. Subordinating conjunctions perform the grammatical function of subordinator. The three dependent clauses in English are noun clauses, adjective clauses, and adverb clauses. Some of the subordinating conjunctions in English that introduce noun clauses are:
- That you adopted a cat surprises me.
- Whether you drop out of college is none of my business.
- I dislike where you picked for our vacation.
- Whoever made that assertion is dead wrong.
Some of the subordinating conjunctions in English that introduce adjective clauses are:
- The green one is the ball that I was bouncing.
- That building is the house where I met her.
- The dog who eats special food has health problems.
- The man whom you hit with your car owns the local frozen yogurt shop.
Subordinating conjunctions that introduce adjective, or relative, clauses are also referred to as relative pronouns. Note that the subordinating conjunctions that introduce noun and adjective clauses often also perform additional syntactic functions as such subject and direct object in addition to the function of subordinator.
Some of the subordinating conjunctions in English that introduce adverb clauses are:
- as long as
- as soon as
- as though
- even if
- even though
- now that
- so that
- The baker made cookies after she baked a cake.
- Before you go, sign the log book.
- Tommy scrubbed the bathroom tile until his arms ached.
- Even though Sally kissed him, Bobby fainted.
Subordinating conjunctions perform only the grammatical function of subordinator.
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.