If words are the building blocks for our writing, then good transitions are the cement that holds them together. To make these transitions in our writing we need to turn to conjunctions. A conjunction is a word or words used to show the connection between ideas.
The following pages will provide you with details about what conjunctions are and what they do. But, this classic Conjunction Junction from 1973 will provide you with a fun overview before you learn more.
Disney Educational Productions. (2011, December 8). Schoolhouse rock: Grammar - conjunction junction music video. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPoBE-E8VOc
Coordinating conjunctions coordinate or join two equal parts. They are particularly important because, when used with a comma, they can actually connect complete sentences.
Of course, they don’t always have to connect complete sentences. Coordinating conjunctions can also connect smaller, equal parts of a sentence.
The key to using coordinating conjunctions is to think about what they are coordinating. This will help you make decisions about which one to use and how to punctuate.
First, however, we should look at the list of coordinating conjunctions. There are only seven, and you may have heard of them as the FANBOYS.
If you are using a coordinating conjunction to connect two complete sentences, you must also use a comma.
- I knew that phrase from the debate would be a meme, but I am surprised at how quickly it happened.
If you aren’t connecting two complete sentences and are just connecting smaller, equal parts of a sentence, you should not use a comma.
- I knew that phrase from the debate would be a meme but am surprised at how quickly it happened.
You will notice there is no comma because we no longer have two complete sentences (or independent clauses)—one before and after the coordinating conjunction. In the second sentence, the conjunction is simply coordinating a compound predicate.
Coordinating conjunctions can also coordinate smaller words and phrases. The idea is that they coordinate equal parts:
- Apples and oranges
- Running for office or staying home to relax
- Werewolves and vampires
- Small but powerful
Subordinating conjunctions connect parts that aren’t equal. In fact, you can tell by their name that they make a phrase subordinate to the main phrase or clause.
Common subordinating conjunctions are "after, although, because, before, even though, since, though", and "when".
The key to using subordinating conjunctions correctly is to remember that a subordinating conjunction sets off a phrase, so there should always be words with it.
When a subordinating conjunction appears at the beginning of a sentence, the subordinating phrase is always set off with a comma. When a subordinating conjunction appears at the end of a sentence, the subordinating phrase is not usually set off with commas.
The exceptions (and there are always exceptions, right?) are when you use words like "although" or "even though" at the end of a sentence. Because these set-off phrases show contrast, they still get a comma, even when they are used at the end of the sentence.
- Although I tried, I could not outrun the werewolf.
- I could not outrun the werewolf, although I tried.
- Because my alarm clock did not go off, I missed the full moon and will now have to wait until next month to go out and play.
- I missed the full moon and will now have to wait until next month to go out and play because my alarm clock did not go off.
You will notice the comma with the "although" phrase, no matter where it appears in the sentence, but the "because" phrase follows the standard “rule.”
It’s also important to note that "although" cannot stand alone like a conjunctive adverb, which will be discussed on the next page.
- Although, I tried to outrun the werewolf.
The above example is a common, incorrect usage of "although" and actually makes a sentence fragment, which is a serious grammatical error.
The conjunctions that are not exactly conjunctions are conjunctive adverbs. “Conjunctive adverbs are used to connect other words. Therefore, conjunctive adverbs act like conjunctions even though they are not technically considered to be conjunctions…. Conjunctive adverbs are also called transitions because they link ideas.” (Rozarkis, 1997, p. 55)
Conjunctive adverbs are words like "however, moreover, therefore", and "furthermore".
They provide important transitions between ideas and are commonly used to help create a nice, flowing work. Often, you’ll see a conjunctive adverb used after a semicolon to start a new independent clause, as illustrated in this example:
- I have several back-up zombie plans in place; however, I am sure my first plan is the best plan.
However, it’s also important to note that you don’t have to use a conjunctive adverb every time you use a semicolon, and you don’t have to use a semicolon to use a conjunctive adverb. Conjunctive adverbs work well after periods, too.