You are viewing the free, open access version of The Nature of Writing. For all premium membership features (including quizzes, additional lessons, course progress tracking, and more), please register or log in.


Conjunctions are like hinges. They connect words, phrases, and clauses. Let’s review the three types of conjunctions.

Coordinating Conjunctions

The most common conjunctions are called coordinating conjunctions. The word coordinate means to bring different elements into a harmonious and orderly relationship.

Coordinating conjunctions do just that: they relate two parts of the sentence that are given equal weight:

Which is better: Mars or Snickers?

The beach was nice, but the seagulls were annoying.

The great news is that there are just seven coordinating conjunctions; the bad news is that you should probably memorize them. To help you out, someone came up with the acronym FANBOYS:

For – And – Nor – But – Or – Yet – So

Here’s an alternative way to group them:

And, but (create similarity and contrast)

For, nor, or (they rhyme!)

Yet, so (the leftovers)

Use whatever strategy works for you. These are some of the most common building blocks of language and you’ll want to be able to identify them.

Subordinating Conjunctions

The word subordinate means to treat something as being of less importance than another. Just like a king rules over his people (his subordinates), so a sentence has elements that are of lower rank or importance.

In particular, when a sentence has a dependent clause, it is introduced by a subordinating conjunction. This conjunction relates the dependent clause to the main clause:

When Jim went to China, he accidentally ordered a hot dog.

Once we’ve graduated, we can do anything!

You’ll notice that if the dependent clause comes first, it is usually followed by a comma. If it comes later in the sentence, the comma is often left out:

I won’t tell you the story unless you buy me a drink.

I made only two friendship bracelets because I have only two friends.

Here is a list of the most common subordinating conjunctions:

Subordinating Conjunctions
after since
although so that
as (if) than
as long as that
because though
before unless
even if until
even though when
if (only) whenever
in order that where
now that whereas
once wherever
rather than while

Correlative Conjunctions

The last type of conjunction is really a pair of conjunctions that work as a team. If it helps, think of them as being related to each other:

either … or

neither … nor

not only … but also

both … and

whether … or

These pairs can tie together anything from specific words to entire clauses:

Trixie won medals in both shot put and high jump. (connecting nouns)

Olivier studied whether nationalism is dead in Europe or whether it is being revived by fears over immigration. (connecting clauses)

While there are just a few correlative conjunctions, we use them all the time.


Finally, a word of caution.

Many words can function as multiple parts of speech. Conjunctions are no exception to this rule:

She wrote so many Christmas cards.

The hose was leaking, so I bought some new washers.

They knew each other before the war.

Before we had our staycation, we had no idea how many local attractions there are.

Cathy’s pigeons are more iridescent than mine.

He clearly loves you more than I do.

Everything depends on context. The more parts of speech you learn, the easier it gets to differentiate them. That’s the theory anyway.