Articles / On Writing

Today, I wanted to discuss conjunctions—what they are and how to use them. Before I proceed, I’m going to do a quick lesson in the difference between a phrase and a clause and the difference between a dependent and an independent clause. You have to know what they are in order to properly understand the relationship between clauses and conjunctions.

Phrase: A phrase is a group of words (nouns, verbals, etc.) that lacks a subject.

Clause: A clause is group of words that have a subject that is acting or being acted upon.

Phrase Clause
Look at girls Boys look at girls
Smashed against the wall Because Joey smashed the vase against the wall
When driving the car When she was driving the car
Forcing the discussion Shane forced the discussion upon the group

There are two types of clauses: dependent and independent.

Dependent clauses: These clauses have the makings of an independent clause (a subject and verb) but do not relate a complete thought. When dependent clauses begin sentences, they are typically joined to the main clause by a comma.

Independent clauses: These contain both a subject and a predicate, and they can stand on their own as a sentence.

Dependent Clause Independent Clause
After the boys looked at girls The boys looked at the girls
Because Joey smashed the vase Joey smashed the vase
When she was driving the car She drove the car
While Shane forced the discussion Shane forced the discussion upon the group


Now, that you have had a refresher on phrases and clauses, let’s move on to conjunctions. A conjunction is a word that joins words, phrases, independent clauses to other independent clauses, or dependent clauses to independent clauses. There are three types of conjunctions: correlative, coordinating, and subordinating.


–Correlative Conjunctions

These are conjunctions that appear in pairs, generally indicating contrast or commonality.

The following are correlative conjunctions: either…or, neither…nor, not only…but also, whether…or.

Neither the man nor his friend could answer the question.


–Coordinating Conjunctions

This type of conjunction is used to join words, phrases, and independent clauses. The coordinating conjunctions are as follows: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. (aka: FANBOYS)

They can be used to join items in a list.

Jenny went to the store and bought apples, oranges, and bananas.

Or to form a compound subject.

Tommy and Sally went to the movies.

Or to form a compound predicate.

Billy threw the ball and cringed when it hit his dad’s car.

They can also be used to join two independent clauses together. For example, if you have two short sentences and would like to join them together in one sentence, you would use a coordinating conjunction.

I wanted to buy some ice cream. I was out of money.

The flow of the sentences would be greatly improved if they were joined together. Coordinating conjunctions to the rescue.

I wanted to buy some ice cream, but I was out of money.

Note that when a conjunction is used to join two independent clauses together, it should be preceded by a comma. There is an exception to this rule if the clauses are short.

Coordinating conjunctions are used to create compound sentences and complex-compound sentences. What are those you ask? Just wait, we’re getting there. 🙂 We still have to cover the last type of conjunction.


–Subordinating Conjunctions

There are two ways in which subordinating conjunctions are used with dependent clauses. The first is when they are used at the beginning of a sentence (as marker word) to indicate a dependent clause. When dependent clauses are used in an introductory manner, they are generally followed by a comma. Again, if the introductory clause is short and not going to cause an issue with clarity, you can forgo the comma.

After she called her friends to tell them where she was, Holly decided to rejoin the party.

The second way subordinating conjunctions are used is to join a dependent clause to an independent clause. When dependent clauses follow the main clause, you generally do not punctuate it unless there is an issue with clarity.

Holly decided to rejoin the party after she called her friends to tell them where she was.

Notice the common factor in the sentences. The subordinating conjunction precedes the dependent clause. This is because subordinating conjunctions subjugate the phrase or clause they precede. Without them, the dependent clause becomes independent.

The following are subordinating conjunctions: after, although, as, as if, as though, because, before, even if, even though, how, if, if only, once, rather than, since, till, than, that, though, unless, until, when, where, whereas, wherever, whether, which, and while.

Subordinating conjunctions are used to form complex and complex-compound sentences.

As you can tell, conjunctions make sentences pop. By using them, you can create complicated sentence structures. As promised, let’s discuss those structures.

–(Non-simple) sentence structures that use conjunctions

Compound sentence: These sentences contain two or more independent clauses. These clauses are generally joined by coordinating conjunctions.

Complex sentence: These sentences have one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

Complex-compound sentence: These sentences contain at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. (Conjunctions are in bold. Independent clauses are underlined and in red. Dependent clauses are in green. Phrases have no special formatting.)

Compound Sentence She waited for the bus, but it passed her.
Complex Sentence As Sally ran toward the bus stop, hoping she would arrive on time, the bus passed her.
Complex-Compound Sentence After Sally walked to her bus stop, she remembered she’d left her homework at home, so she rushed back to get it because she didn’t want to get a bad grade.


Do you have questions about conjunctions? Let us know. 🙂




  1. Thank you very much and please more information like that .

  2. Wonderfully clear. Thank you.

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