Using the Right Conjunctions in Writing

Conjunctions are words which connect (conjoin means to join together) two parts of the same sentence. Using conjunctions in writing is essential to form longer, more complex sentences and join two or more ideas. Conjunctions do not only bring ideas and pieces of information together but they also separate or contrast them against each other.

Using the Right Conjunctions in Writing

For example:

Mom is going to the grocery store and dad is staying at home to make dinner.

The conjunction "and" helps us give information about what both mom and dad are doing at the moment in the same sentence.

Johnny wants to go to the concert tonight, but Jess has to study.

In this case, the conjunction "but" is used to contrast the plans Johnny and Jess have for the same evening.

More examples:

I worked so hard for three years and I finally fulfilled my dream.

Elizabeth, Mark, and Sarah signed up for Spanish classes but they ended up in the French class with me.

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses

Why Conjunctions?

In short, conjunctions are linking words. We use them in writing because they make our sentences more interesting and allow us to skillfully provide a greater amount of information in the same sentence. They also improve the diversity of our sentences and paragraphs, making the overall text more pleasant to read.

Types of Conjunctions

We differentiate between coordinating, subordinating, and correlative conjunctions.

Coordinating conjunctions are words which connect equal parts of a sentence that could be either words or phrases. Such conjunctions are "and", "so", "or", "but", "yet". You can remember that they all contain fewer than four letters.

For example:

Fred couldn't lie anymore, so he told the truth.

The coordinating conjunction "so" connects two independent parts – the first one informs us that Frank could not lie anymore and the second one informs us that he told the truth.

My favorite bands are Radiohead and The National.

The coordinating conjunction "and" connects an independent phrase about the writer's favorite band with the name of another band.

I feel like eating pizza or a burrito tonight.

The coordinating conjunction "or" connects two food options, implying that only one of them is acceptable.

Subordinating conjunctions bring together a dependent and independent clause. The conjunction comes before the dependent (or subordinating) clause which could not make a complete sentence on its own without the independent clause. These conjunctions include "because", "since", "for", "before", "whenever", "whereas", and many others.

For example:

We couldn't go out because it was raining.

"Because it was raining" could not be a complete sentence without the independent clause "we couldn't go out". The conjunction "because" bridges the two parts and gives us information about why someone could not go out.

More examples:

Since you are always late, you will have to submit another assignment.

Whenever I see a dog on the street, I feel happy.

Correlative means "related".

Correlative conjunctions always come in pairs. Words such as "either/or", "such/that", "neither/nor", and "as/as" bring equal parts of a sentence together. These conjunctions often list options, choices, or ideas among which some or none are valid or achievable. Correlative conjunctions are also useful in comparisons.

For example:

We can either leave now or in half an hour.

The conjunction "either/or" tells us which two options are available and implies that only one of them can happen.

Emma is as good in Spanish as she is in Japanese.

The conjunction "as/as" tells us that Emma's understanding of Spanish is equal to her understanding of Japanese.

Conjunctive adverbs, also known as adverbial conjunctions, are words that bring together two separate thoughts or sentences. For this reason, they are placed in the middle of two thoughts. The correct punctuation for a conjunctive adverb is a period ( . ) / semicolon ( ; ) / comma  ( , ) before it, and a comma  ( , ) after it.

You should come with us. Moreover, you shouldn't stay here alone.

You should come with us; moreover, you shouldn't stay here alone.

You should come with us, and moreover, you shouldn't stay here alone.

Examples of conjunctive adverbs: moreover, for instance, finally, in addition, nevertheless, however, and many others.

For example:

Vegetarian diet has many benefits; for example, vegetarians tend to live longer.

Either of these sentences can be independent and represents a separate thought. They are brought together by the conjunctive adverb "for example" to form a stronger argument.

More examples:

Jack walked for three hours searching for a perfect present and, finally, he found one in the Chinese quarter.

It seemed like I was going to spend the night in the city. Nevertheless, I found a way to go home.

Choosing the right conjunction is essential for several reasons:

1. Conjunctions enrich your writing and allow you to bring many ideas together.

For example:

I love cooking. I love watching TV. I started loving these activities when I was a child. => Since I was a child, I've loved cooking and watching TV.

It is snowing. We have no choice. We cannot walk to the cinema. We also cannot bike to the cinema. => Because it is snowing, we can neither walk nor bike to the cinema.

2. Conjunctions can help you say more in fewer words.

For example:

Tom told me he can't go to Germany with us. The reason he can't go is that he doesn't have money. => Tom told me he can't go to Germany with us because he doesn't have money.

This morning I brushed my teeth. After that, I drank coffee. After my coffee, I made a sandwich. After all of that, I watched TV. => This morning, I brushed my teeth, drank coffee, made a sandwich, and watched TV.

3. Choosing a wrong conjunction can completely change the meaning of your sentence.

Dana doesn't like beans but she does like peas. => Dana doesn't like beans nor does she like peas.

In the first example, we incorrectly learn that Dana likes peas and not beans. When we replace the conjunction "but" with "nor", we make it clear that Dana doesn't like beans and she doesn't like peas.

4. In addition, misplacing the correctly chosen conjunction can also confuse your readers.

I wake up early, although I am not tired.

This sentence can mean that the writer wakes up early despite not being tired.

Although I wake up early, I am not tired.

Putting the conjunction "although" at the beginning of the sentence clarifies its meaning. The writer now says that in spite of waking up early, she is not tired.

More tips

Besides knowing what each conjunction means and where to place your conjunctions, what else should you keep in mind?

Conjunctions Join Parallel Structures

We explained which conjunctions join two independent clauses and which join dependent clauses. However, it is also important to note that conjunctions are meant to connect phrases which have equal structures. For example, you should join two adverbs, two adjectives, or two verbs put in the same tense (unless they are preceded by pronouns or nouns).

For example:

Hannah looked beautiful and elegantly.

The conjunction "and" is placed incorrectly because it joins an adjective (beautiful) and an adverb (elegantly). Instead, it should be phrased:

Hannah looked beautiful and elegant.

In this case, the conjunction joins two adverbs.

More examples:

My parents lived in Miami in the 1970s but move out due to the weather. => My parents lived in Miami in the 1970s but moved out due to the weather.

John got a promotion because he does his job thoroughly and careful. => John got a promotion because he does his job thoroughly and carefully.

Starting a Sentence with a Conjunction

Many English learners are led to believe that starting a sentence with a conjunction is wrong. However, this is not the case. First and foremost, subordinating conjunctions precede dependent clauses, so it is logical for them to be able to stand at the beginning of a sentence.

For example:

Whenever it rains, his mood changes.

Other coordinating conjunctions can also be the first word in your sentence. However, they have a much stronger role if they bring different parts of a sentence together, so it is advisable to use them at the beginning of a sentence only occasionally.

For example:

Yet, they reached their destination.

But also:

They were exhausted, yet they reached their destination.

In conclusion, using the right conjunctions in writing is important for several reasons. Remember that conjunctions do the following:

  • connect equal parts of a sentence
  • bring together two or more independent sentences
  • join independent and dependent clauses
  • stand in the middle of a sentence separated by commas or a semicolon and comma
  • connect equal structures
  • can be placed at the beginning of a sentence

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