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1.10: All Together Now Conjunctions, Compounds, and Subordinate Clauses

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    Like prepositions, conjunctions are connecting words. Broadly defined, conjunctions join one word or group of words with a similar word or group of words. There are two kinds.

    COORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS

    Coordinating conjunctions create compound struc- tures: They connect two or more grammatically equivalent units of language: a word with a word, a phrase with a phrase, or one sentence with another sentence. In the below sentences, and is the coordinating conjunction:

    I gave him time and money. (noun and noun)
    I gave promptly and generously. (adverb and adverb)
    The white and blue car is there. (adjective and adjective) We saw Ed and told him the news. (predicate and predicate)

    Here are a few sentences with compound subjects. The conjunctions (and and or) are in bold, and one of the sentences contains a three-part compound subject:

    You or I have to clean up this mess.

    Mark Twain, Damon Runyon, and J.R.R. Tolkien are three of Sam’s favorite authors.

    All the king’s horses and all the king’s men are having egg sandwiches.

    These sentences contain compound verbs:
    We hiked, swam and sailed until dark.
    You can behave or leave.
    I will sit and think and write all afternoon.

    Here are sentences with compound prepositional phrases: We can’t find the dog in the house or in the yard.

    In the spring, through the summer, and into the fall, we work in the garden.

    You can combine any of these structures into a single sentence, using (for example) a compound subject, a compound verb, and a compound predicate:

    Jim and Sue planned and prepared the meal and cleaned up afterward.

    All the compound structures above depend on just two coordinating conjunctions: and and or. In fact, there are only seven coordinating conjunctions in English, so it’s convenient to memorize them:

    for but and or nor yet so

    There’s a well-known mnemonic (a memory trick) for remem- bering these conjunctions: The first letters of these seven words spell the word FANBOYS.

    THE CLAUSE AND THE COMPOUND SENTENCE

    Now we come to one of the most important terms in grammar: the clause. For our purposes in this chapter, we’ll use this definition:

    A clause is a unit of language that contains one subject and one predicate.

    And yes, that definition sounds a good deal like our earlier tentative definition of a sentence. There’s overlap between the two definitions for a simple reason: Any complete sentence contains at least one clause.

    The seven coordinating conjunctions (the FANBOYS conjunctions) can join two or more clauses to create a larger structure called a compound sentence. To make the compound sentence, we select the conjunction that best communicates the relationship between the two clauses.

    For example, each of the following is a complete sentence and also a single clause:

    You will have to behave yourself. You will have to leave.

    With a coordinating conjunction, we can combine these two sentences into one sentence that contains two clauses:

    You will have to behave yourself, or you will have to leave.

    The following are more compound sentences, made by combining two clauses—the last sentence contains three clauses— all joined by coordinating conjunctions:

    You have to leave, for you are not behaving yourself.

    You are not behaving yourself, so you will have to leave.

    Now you’re behaving, but you have to leave anyway.

    You’re behaving now, yet you have to leave, and you can’t come back.

    (You’d be amazed how often people say things like that to grammar teachers.)

    The coordinating conjunction nor, when used to construct a compound sentence, is a bit unusual: It requires a negative word (such as not) in the first clause, and it often requires a special word order in the second clause. Nor makes an auxiliary verb move to a position before the subject:

    We do not want you to stay, nor do we want you to return. You may not stay, nor may you return.

    In these examples, nor makes the auxiliaries do and may shift to the left of the subjects (we and you).

    CORRELATIVE COORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS

    Correlatives are a special subclass of coordinating conjunctions. There are only four:

    Either . . . or Neither . . . nor

    You Did What?: Verbs and Their Complements | 95 Not only . . . but also

    As you see, these correlative coordinating conjunctions consist of two parts, and the second part always contains one of the FANBOYS conjunctions: or, nor, and, or but. You’ve probably used them many times:

    Either Fred or George should clean up their mess. Neither Fred nor George cleaned up their mess. Both Fred and George are jerks.
    Fred and George are not only jerks, but also idiots.

    Correlative conjunctions are very useful. The correlatives work in other compound structures, like compound predicates:

    Fred and George both need to straighten up and fly right. And either . . . or can join clauses to make compound sentences:

    Either Fred and George must behave, or they must go.

    Use not only . . . but also carefully. Inexperienced writers use the structure too often, or in ways that seem to imply that the first part of the compound structure is less important than the second portion. The writer may not intend to suggest that in these sentences:

    She is not only a physician, but also a classical violinist.
    He is not only a Lutheran minister, but also a professional wrestler.

    If we don’t want to minimize the importance of being a physician or a minister, we should rewrite these sentences and leave out the not only part:

    Both . . . and

    She is both a physician and a classical violinist.
    He is a Lutheran minister, and he is also a professional wrestler.

    The first sentence uses the correlative coordinating conjunction both . . . also. In the second sentence, and is simply a coordinating conjunction accompanied by the adverb also.

    SUBORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS

    The second group of conjunctions are the subordinating conjunctions, which are the larger group. (See what we did there? We used the comparative adjective.) There are about thirty or so.

    These conjunctions are used to connect one clause to another to make a single longer sentence with two or more clauses. The new sentence has qualities that we don’t find in the compound sentences created by coordinating conjunctions.

    The subordinating conjunction always appears at the beginning of one of the clauses. The clause begun this way is a subordinate clause.

    Lists of the subordinating conjunctions vary from one grammar book to another, but the following list is reasonably complete. These are the one-word subordinating conjunctions:

    after
    although
    as
    because
    before
    however
    if
    lest until

    once when since whenever than where that wherever though whereas till whether

    unless
    The following sentences each contain one subordinate clause;

    while

    You Did What?: Verbs and Their Complements | 97 the conjunction is in bold:

    He left because he wanted to leave. I’ll go when I’m ready.
    We’ll let you know if she calls.
    I will find you wherever you go.

    Subordinate clauses are always adverbial, and they typically modify the verb, so they can often be moved around the sentence. They can be placed at the beginning or the end of the sentence:

    Because he wanted to leave, he left. When I’m ready, I’ll go.
    If she calls, we’ll let you know. Wherever you go, I will find you.

    Notice that you can’t do the same thing with clauses joined by coordinating conjunctions. You can certainly use a coordinating conjunction to join two independent clauses:

    He was ready to leave, so he left.

    But you can’t move the second clause (including the conjunction) to the beginning of the sentence:

    WRONG: So he left, he was ready to leave.

    The movability of subordinate clauses is a useful feature. It helps us identify them, and it gives writers more stylistic options in constructing sentences.

    In some cases, it’s also possible to move the subordinate clause to the middle of the other clause, like this:

    Fred and George, because they are idiots, are no longer welcome here.

    Notice that in these cases, the subordinate clause is typically enclosed by a pair of commas. This placement of the subordinate clause, because it is unusual, is emphatic, so use it carefully.

    Some subordinating conjunctions are more than one word: as if, as though, so that.

    You should act as if you know what you’re doing.
    You should speak as though you know what you’re talking about.
    He took the job so that he could include it on his résumé.

    Though these clauses modify the verb, they are not moveable. Some grammars include even though among the subordinate conjunctions, as in We’re mentioning this even though you’ve probably had enough conjunctions. An even though clause is moveable.

    THAT DARNED THAT

    One of the most troublesome subordinating conjunctions in the list above is that. It’s not complicated, but that is used in many different ways, not just as a conjunction. We’ll look at those uses in future chapters.

    For now, consider these subordinate that clauses, and notice that they are all adverbial, but not moveable.

    I am confident that I will win.
    I am happy that you can be with us. We were sad that you lost.

    These clauses are adverbial but not because they modify the verb. Instead, they modify the adjectives (confident, happy, sad) in each sentence.

    You Did What?: Verbs and Their Complements | 99 MORE CORRELATIVES

    There are also correlative subordinating conjunctions:

    as . . . as so . . . that the . . . the

    We use these pairs of words to create adverbial clauses modifying only adverbs or adjectives. In the following sentence, the subordinate clause modifies adverbs:

    I’ll be there as soon as I can. (Modifying soon.) They traveled as far as they could. (Modifying far.)

    The as . . . as correlative can modify many adverbs (e.g., as long as, as quickly as, as surely as) and adjectives—as many as you like.

    Here are examples of so . . . that, modifying adjectives: He was so impatient that he slammed the door.

    (Modifying impatient.)
    We were so weary that we slept all afternoon.

    (Modifying weary.)

    The strangest conjunction of all is surely the . . . the, based on the occasional adverbial use of the (as in He is the worse for wear):

    The more he does that, the less I like him. (Modifying the adverb more)

    The bigger they are, the faster I run. (Modifying the adjective bigger)

    These subordinate clauses are not moveable. DISTINGUISHING CONJUNCTIONS FROM

    PREPOSITIONS

    A few conjunctions are identical to prepositions. The only way to distinguish these prepositions from the identical conjunctions is the context: If the word in question is followed by a clause, it’s a conjunction. If the word in question is followed by a noun phrase or a pronoun, it’s a preposition.

    Prepositions that resemble coordinating conjunctions are but (meaning except) and for:

    Preposition: No one can go but her.
    I brought the gift for this child.

    Conjunction: He left, but he came back. He left, for it was late.

    Some prepositions also resemble subordinating conjunctions, like before, after, until, since, and as:

    Preposition:

    Conjunction:

    Come back before [or after] sunset. Don’t come back until nine.
    He hasn’t come back since nine. He is known as Jim.

    Come back before [or after] Jim returns. He does that until he falls down.
    He hasn’t come back since he graduated. He juggles as he rides a unicycle.

    In every case, a noun follows the preposition and a clause follows the conjunction.

    TWO KINDS OF CLAUSES

    The conjunctions we’ve been examining require us to work with two different kinds of clauses, and now we need to make the distinction clear:

    An independent clause contains at least one subject and at least one predicate, and it contains no word that makes the clause dependent on another clause to be complete. That is, it contains no word like a subordinating conjunction. An independent clause is grammatically complete by itself, without the addition of other clauses, so it can stand by itself as a complete sentence. When you encounter the term main clause, that’s simply another term for an independent clause.

    When we combine two or more independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction, we’ve created a compound sentence.

    A dependent clause contains at least one subject and at least one predicate, and it is not grammatically complete by itself. When a dependent clause appears in a sentence, it functions as part of an independent clause.

    According to these definitions, this is an independent clause:

    We went to the museum.

    But if we add a subordinating conjunction to it, it’s a dependent clause that needs to be connected to another clause:

    After we went to the museum . . .

    One kind of dependent clause is a subordinate clause. It contains at least one subject and one predicate and it’s connected to an

    independent clause by a subordinating conjunction. As you know by now, the example clause above (After we went to the museum . . .) is a subordinate clause.

    Notice the difference between dependent clauses and subordinate clauses: Subordinate clauses are one subcategory of dependent clauses. This is a distinction that some grammar books, language textbooks, and dictionaries don’t make.

    We’ll learn about other kinds of dependent clauses in the next few chapters.

    ELLIPTICAL CLAUSES

    In all kinds of ways, English sentences can contain elliptical clauses, sentences that often leave out words that are implied in context, as in [You must] Get out! Questions are also sometimes elliptical: Why me? (That is, Why [do these things happen to] me?) Elliptical structures help writers write concisely: You are more ambitious than I [am].

    In elliptical clauses, we simply omit certain words that we need grammatically because they are—in that particular context— clearly implied. The missing words are often said to be understood; that is, the reader understands that certain words have been omitted for brevity.

    When we’re analyzing an elliptical clause, we insert the missing words because they’re necessary for the grammatical completeness of the sentence, though the meaning of the sentence is clear without them.

    Here are some examples, all well-known proverbs:

    When in doubt, punt. (John Heismann) When in doubt, don’t. (Benjamin Franklin) When in doubt, tell the truth. (Mark Twain)

    If we rewrote these by making the implicit words explicit, they

    You Did What?: Verbs and Their Complements | 103

    might read like this:

    When [you are] in doubt, [you should] punt.
    When [you are] in doubt, [you] don’t [do what you were considering].
    When [you are] in doubt, [you should] tell the truth.

    Elliptical clauses are not fragment sentences, though they are often missing subjects, or part of their predicates:

    We are going, [whether you] like it or not.
    Whatever the situation [may be], he is uncooperative. If [it is] necessary, we will speak to him.
    [Money is] here today, [and] gone tomorrow.

    In the following examples, the subject in the subordinate clauses is missing, but it is similar or identical to the subject in the independent clauses:

    While [we were] looking for your book, we found your lost keys.
    When [you are] traveling, you must keep your belongings secure.

    She likes him better than [she likes] me.

    The correlative subordinating conjunction as . . . as can create similar elliptical structures:

    She likes him as much as [she likes] me. He dances as well as she [dances].

    And now [we’ll have] one more [elliptical sentence] for the road, from J. K. Rowling:

    When in doubt, go to the library.

    POINTS FOR WRITERS

    1. Variations on compound structures.

    Sometimes writers choose to omit the conjunction (usually and) from compound structures. Carefully used, this unusual practice can make the compound structures more emphatic. Consider these series of compounds:

    This project will require hard work, unwavering attention, total dedication.

    “. . . government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

    Be warned: If you overuse this variation, it ceases to be effective and, instead, becomes distracting or even pointless.

    Another variation is to use the conjunction and to join each part of a compound structure with the next part, to emphasize that all the parts are of equal importance:

    This project will require hard work and unwavering attention and total dedication.

    Again, don’t overuse this pattern.
    Sometimes, when we have several compound sentences, we

    can improve sentence variety by omitting the conjunction in a two-clause sentence and replacing it with a semicolon:

    Luis excels at school, for he devotes many hours every week to studying.
    Luis excels at school; he devotes many hours every week to studying.

    You Did What?: Verbs and Their Complements | 105

    You’ve probably noticed in your reading that that just one coordinating conjunction can create a compound sentence of three, four, or more independent clauses:

    A single coordinating conjunction can unite a sentence of two clauses, it can create a sentence of three or four clauses, and in rare cases it is used in a sentence of five clauses or more.

    2. Compound subjects and verb agreement.

    Compound subjects take singular or plural verbs, depending on the conjunction or, in some cases, the right-most subject. Look at these three examples:

    Bob and Ray are here.
    Either Bob or Ray is your assistant.
    Either Bob or the twins are your assistants.

    The and in the first example means that the subject, Bob and Ray, is plural, so you need a plural verb: are.

    The or in the second example means that the subject, Bob or Ray, is singular—either Bob or Ray—so you need the singular verb: is.

    In the third example, the plural subject, twins, is the subject closest to the verb. In this case, you need the plural verb, are. If the compound subject were reversed—either the twins or Bob—the verb would be singular: is.

    So the third example is grammatically correct, but it sounds awkward to many readers. We can usually improve a sentence like this by rewriting it:

    BETTER: Either Bob or the twins will assist you.

    3. So that.
    In casual conversation and writing, we often use so by itself as

    an intensifier before an adjective or adverb to mean very or really: He was so angry.

    She ran so fast.

    In formal writing and speaking, this is often regarded as a mistake, because so, used this way, requires a that clause to finish the idea:

    He was so angry that he couldn’t speak.
    She ran so fast that she outdistanced all the other runners.

    The that clause enables us to clarify how angry he was, or how fast she was. When we leave it out, we’ve failed to finish the idea.

    Write so carefully that no one can accuse you of carelessness— unless you’re deliberately seeking a casual, more conversational style.

    4. Conjunctive adverbs.

    We often use the following phrases in our reading, writing, and speaking:

    therefore moreover thus indeed likewise

    however nevertheless hence
    in fact

    in contrast

    These phrases and many like them (e.g., after all, as a result, consequently, furthermore, instead, meanwhile, on the contrary,

    You Did What?: Verbs and Their Complements | 107 still, then) indicate some connection between the clauses they

    appear in and previous clauses:

    She has been late three times this week; therefore, I don’t consider her reliable.
    He has been late three times this week; however, he is usually reliable.

    These are conjunctive adverbs: They are adverbs that vaguely resemble conjunctions, because they indicate a relationship between the ideas of two clauses. But they are not conjunctions. They can’t—by themselves—join the two clauses into a compound or complex sentence. That is, the connection indicated by conjunctive adverbs is one of ideas, not grammatical structure.

    They are sometimes called transitional adverbs, and we use them to build paragraph coherence by signaling the connections among the sentences.

    This affects punctuation. Notice the use of semi-colons—not commas—above. In each example, we could use periods instead of semi-colons and make two separate sentences. In that case, the second sentence in each example could still contain the conjunctive adverbs.

    We can tell that these words are adverbs and not conjunctions because they are moveable in many contexts:

    He has been late three times this week; however, he is usually reliable.

    He has been late three times this week; he is, however, usually reliable.

    We can’t move a true conjunction around in its clause as we can move these conjunctive adverbs. If however were atrue subordinating conjunction, it would have to remain at the beginning of the clause it introduces.

    Notice that in the second example above, the placement of however after is creates a pause that gives greater emphasis to the next words, usually reliable.

    In other words, conjunctive adverbs have at least two stylistic uses: to indicate transition from one idea to the next, and (if carefully used) to emphasis words that follow the adverbs.

    However is sometimes used as an adverb in ways that are not conjunctive, such as an adverb modifying an adjective or adverb. In each of the cases below, the adjective or adverb in bold modifies a noun or verb before it (fine, children, or to run):

    You must pay the fine, however unreasonable.
    School children, however young, can learn responsibility. She decided to run in the race, however slowly.

    We can also use however as a subordinating conjunction which is why it’s in the list of conjunctions in this chapter:

    We can rearrange this office however we wish. Apparently you can use however however you like.

    These clauses are not moveable.

    5. Compounds and concise writing.

    Compound structures help us achieve brevity in our writing. For example, with compounding, we can make one adjective modify several nouns:

    In the trunk in the attic, we discovered old clothes, books, and photographs.

    You Did What?: Verbs and Their Complements | 109 Or we can use one preposition to apply to several objects, or

    one adverb to apply to several verbs:

    Mr. Benny is traveling to Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga. We all eagerly dressed, packed, and departed.

    6. Subtract the plus.

    In your careful writing, don’t use plus as a replacement for and unless your context is mathematical, or metaphorically mathematical:

    Hard work plus determination equal success.

    EXERCISES

    9a. Try to write, from memory, the seven coordinating conjunc- tions. (A hint: Remember FANBOYS.) Check your answers with the list in this chapter.

    9b. Try to write, from memory, the four correlative coordinating conjunctions. Check your answers with the list in this chapter.

    9c. Try to write, from memory, ten of the subordinating conjunc- tions, and consult the chapter to check your answers.

    9d. In the following sentences, underline and classify the conjunctions as coordinating (C) or subordinating (S) and put brackets around any prepositions. Refer to the lists in this chapter and the previous chapter if you need to. Classify correlative conjunctions as coordinating.

    Here’s an example:

    C

    [In] the following sentences, underline and classify the conjunctions

    CC

    [as] coordinating or subordinating and put brackets [around] any prepositions.

    1. The film was not only boring, but also offensive, so we asked for a refund and went home.
    2. In the morning and again in the evening, Ruthie practices her violin until her mother can’t stand it anymore.
    3. We went to the diner for lunch, for we were expected back soon.
    4. Because we are tired, we’ll take a short break before we continue studying.
    5. Fred and George have been gone since Friday night, since they took a “short break” from studying.
    6. After I finish this project, we can meet after work and discuss the project.
    7. Fred and George are neither punctual nor organized, yet they somehow do their work well.
    8. He was so confident that he underestimated his opponent.
    9. The room looked as if it had not been occupied in some time, but it had been occupied for days or weeks.

    10. The longer he waited, the more impatient he became.

    9e. In the following sentences, identify and label compound subjects, compound verbs, compound predicates, and other compound structures, but not clauses. There are no compound sentences. Not every sentence contains a compound.

    1. Anne always fastens her seatbelt and locks her doors before she drives.
    2. Anne and James are driving to Nashville and Chattanooga.
    3. In Nashville, Anne shopped and visited her family.
    4. She and I always enjoy Nashville, but seldom go there.
    5. The next day we will drive from Tennessee to Illinois.
    6. In Illinois, we will visit the Lincoln Museum and the Lincoln Library.

    7. We will stop in Wisconsin or Minnesota for the night. 8. In Minnesota we will ski and visit family.
    9. Anne and her sister Alice love skiing.
    10. In cold weather, James stays indoors and reads.


    1.10: All Together Now Conjunctions, Compounds, and Subordinate Clauses is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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