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Grammar: Conjunctions

Basics of Conjunctions

Conjunctions are parts of speech that connect words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. There are three kinds of conjunctions: coordinating, paired, and subordinating.

Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions connect words or phrases that serve the same grammatical purpose in a sentence. There are seven main coordinating conjunctions in English, which form the acronym FANBOYS:

F: for: The teachers were frustrated, for the school had cut funding for all enrichment programs.*
A: and: In this course, I will write a literature review, a case study, and a final paper.**
N: nor: The students did not complete their homework, nor did they pass the test.
B: but: The study is several years old but still valuable to this study.
O: or: At the end of the class, the students can choose to write an essay or take a test.
Y: yet: The patient complained of chronic pain, yet she refused treatment.
S: so: I have only been a nurse for one year, so I have little experience with paper charting.

* For is rarely used as a conjunction in modern English.
** When the conjunctions and and or connect three or more words or phrases, use a serial comma to separate items in the series.

Transitional words such as however and therefore can also function as conjunctions:

  • The authors agreed on the prevalence of the problem; however, they disagreed on the problem’s cause.
  • Several employees complained about the new policies, and therefore, the manager held an all-staff meeting to address their concerns.

Paired Conjunctions

Paired conjunctions consist of two words or phrases that help make a point or establish alternatives. While paired conjunctions can be helpful in structuring a sentence, they can also make sentences wordier than necessary, so use these conjunctions sparingly.

  • both…and
    • The project will require significant investments of both time and money.
    • Both the students and the teachers were satisfied with the pilot program.
    • Note: When two subjects are connected by both…and, use a plural verb (such as are or were).
  • not only…but also
    • Students who did not complete the assignment received not only a poor grade but also a warning from the teacher.
    • Not only did the student include full sentences from the source without using quotation marks, but he also failed to properly cite paraphrased material.
  • either…or
    • Either the students were unprepared or the assessment was poorly written.
    • Participants in the survey could either choose from a list of possible answers or write in their own responses.
  • neither…nor
    • Students who did not complete the project received neither praise nor rewards.
    • The staff neither followed the new policy nor asked for clarification.

Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions join a subordinate clause to a main clause and establishes a relationship between the two. There are many subordinating clauses, but here are some of the most common:

  • after
  • although
  • as much as/as soon as/as long as
  • as though
  • because
  • before
  • how
  • if
  • in order to/in order that
  • once
  • since
  • than
  • that
  • though
  • unless
  • until
  • when/whenever
  • where/wherever
  • whether
  • while

There are two ways to structure a sentence using a subordinating conjunction:

  1. Main clause + subordinate clause
    • The teacher administered the test after giving instructions.
    • The author must avoid bias if she wants to maintain a scholarly tone.
    • I will turn in this assignment at midnight whether or not I complete it.
  2. Subordinate clause + , + main clause
    • After giving instructions, the teacher administered the test.
    • If she wants to maintain a scholarly tone, the author must avoid bias.
    • Whether or not I complete this assignment, I will turn it in at midnight.

"That" as a Subordinating Conjunction

Sometimes “that” functions as a subordinating conjunction in a sentence, especially with the use of reporting or linking verbs (such as found, reported, posited, argued, claimed, maintained, and hypothesized). It is part of the dependent clause and it introduces the main independent clause.

  • These dependent clauses are also known as noun clauses. They are often used to report what other people think or have said, such as when introducing a paraphrase, summary, or quotation.
  • In formal written English, “that” is usually maintained for clarity. Indeed, Caplan (2012) found that most academic writers choose to keep the “that” in these types of sentences. (However, in spoken English, it may be dropped).
  • For example,
    • Smith (2015) reported that more research was necessary.
      • Smith (2015) reported that = dependent clause
      • more research was necessary = main independent clause
    • The authors hypothesized that there would be significant results.
      • The authors hypothesized that = dependent clause
      • there would be significant results = main independent clause
    • Jones (2014) asserted that confidentiality was maintained throughout the study.
      • Jones (2014) asserted that = dependent clause
      • confidentiality was maintained throughout the study = main independent clause
  • Sometimes dropping “that” could confuse the reader because the phrase following could be read as the object of the verb in the main clause (Jamieson, 2012).
  • For example,
    • He saw the movie was being released on Friday.
      • In this sentence, it seems that he saw the movie.
    • He saw that the movie was being released on Friday.



Caplan, N. (2012). Grammar choices for graduate and professional writers. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Jamieson, P. (2012). Use of that. Retrieved from

Knowledge Check: Conjunctions