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Capstone Multilingual Writing Tips: Blog

May 2021: Conjunctions in Equal and Unequal Clauses

by Paul Lai on 2021-05-01T08:00:00-05:00 | 0 Comments


As you write, one stylistic consideration is what types of sentences to use. Simple? Compound? Complex? Compound-complex? We have more information about sentence structures on our website as well as in a previous writing tip of the month. Combining ideas effectively in sentences helps make the writing cohesive, which is essential for a doctoral capstone manuscript. Ideas can be combined with either equal or unequal clauses.

A clause is a grammatical unit consisting of at least a subject and a verb. Clauses can be dependent (i.e., unable to stand alone) or independent (i.e., able to stand alone, either as a complete sentence or in combination with other clauses).

When two independent clauses are combined, they have equal status. In other words, both clauses are equally important to the message. To further describe this, Caplan (2012) stated, “The first clause starts the message, and the other continues it” (p. 25). You can use coordinating conjunctions to form equal clauses (these are compound sentences), or you can use a semicolon to combine the clauses. Coordinating conjunctions include

  • for
  • and
  • nor
  • but
  • or
  • yet
  • so

You might memorize these by remembering the mnemonic device FANBOYS.

However, you may also choose to use unequal clauses in a sentence. This is when there is an independent clause and a dependent clause. The independent clause contains the main idea of the sentence, and the dependent clause modifies or expands on the meaning of the main clause. When forming a dependent clause to combine with an independent clause, your word choices are different. In this case, you can choose a subordinating conjunction, such as the following:

  • after
  • although
  • as
  • because
  • before
  • if
  • though
  • when
  • while
  • unless

Although both ways of combining clauses are grammatically correct, the choice to use an equal clause or an unequal clause shifts the focus of the main idea in the sentence. Using a variety of sentence structures and clause combination types can also make the writing more engaging for the reader. Whichever you choose, be sure to pay attention to the punctuation needed to combine the clauses. The post on punctuation patterns gives explanations and examples to help you.

Reference: Caplan, N. A. (2012). Grammar choices for graduate and professional writers. University of Michigan Press.

Revision Tip: Look for places in your doctoral capstone document where you have combined clauses. Did you choose equal clauses or unequal clauses? Did you connect the ideas with the correct type of conjunction (either coordinating or subordinating)? Did you use the correct punctuation to combine the clauses? Revise as needed. Happy Writing!

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