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The Forms and Functions of Conjunctions in English

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 12/10/2013

Get your complete introduction to English conjunctions with this article. Read on and you will learn the types and functions of these little connectors.

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    Conjunctions

    English Conjunctions in English are traditionally defined as "words that join or link words, phrases, clauses, and sentences." The three types of conjunctions in English grammar are:

    1. Coordinating conjunctions
    2. Correlative conjunctions
    3. Subordinating conjunctions

    The following sections discuss the three forms and three functions and include examples to illustrate use.

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    Coordinating Conjunctions

    Coordinating conjunctions are the first type of conjunction in English. Coordinating conjunctions are conjunctions that join or link two or more words, phrases, and clauses. The seven coordinating conjunctions in English, which can be remembered through the acronym FANBOYS, are:

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

    Coordinating conjunctions perform the grammatical function of coordinator. The following italicized conjunctions are examples of coordinating conjunctions:

    • The puppy is small and energetic.
    • My father hates peas yet loves green beans.
    • The storm interfered with the satellite, so I decided to read a book.
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    Correlating Conjunctions

    Correlating conjunctions are the second type of conjunction in English. Correlating conjunctions are the first word or words in pairs of conjunctions that also join or link two or more words, phrases, and clauses. (The second word or words in pairs of conjunctions are coordinating conjunctions.) The first word or words in the following pairs of conjunction are examples of common correlating conjunctions in English:

    Correlating Conjunction...Coordinating Conjunction

    • both...and
    • either...or
    • neither...nor
    • not only...but also
    • whether...or

    Correlative conjunctions perform the grammatical function of correlator. The following italicized conjunctions are examples of correlative conjunctions:

    • You must both wash your hands and comb your hair.
    • Either you will train your dog not to bark, or you will have to keep him inside.
    • Studying grammar is not only educational but also entertaining.

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    Subordinating Conjunctions

    Subordinating conjunctions are the third type of conjunction in English. Subordinating conjunctions are words that introduce dependent or subordinate clauses including noun clauses, adjective clauses, and adverb clauses. The subordinating conjunctions that introduce noun clauses in English are:

    • that
    • if
    • whether
    • how
    • what
    • when
    • where
    • which
    • who
    • whom
    • whose
    • why
    • however
    • whatever
    • whenever
    • wherever
    • whichever
    • whoever
    • whomever

    Subordinating conjunctions that introduce noun clauses are also called noun clause markers.

    The subordinating conjunctions that introduce adjective or relative clauses in English are:

    • who
    • whom
    • that
    • which
    • whose
    • when
    • where

    Subordinating conjunctions that introduce adjective clauses are also called relative pronouns.

    Some of the more frequent subordinating conjunctions that introduce adverb clauses in English are:

    • after
    • although
    • as
    • because
    • before
    • even if
    • even though
    • if
    • now that
    • once
    • only if
    • since
    • so that
    • though
    • unless
    • until
    • when
    • whereas
    • while
    • whilst

    Subordinating conjunctions perform the grammatical function of subordinator. The following italicized conjunctions are examples of subordinating conjunctions:

    • That someone broke into your house worries me. (noun clause)
    • The boy who ate the last cookie is my son. (adjective clause)
    • Please wash your hands after you pet the cat. (adverb clause)
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    A Note on Noun Clauses and Adjective Clauses

    Unlike the subordinating conjunctions that introduce adverb clauses and that only perform the function of subordinator, the subordinating conjunctions that introduce noun clauses and adjective clauses also perform other syntactic functions. The syntactic functions that noun clause subordinators and adjective clauses subordinators are the nominal functions prototypically performed by nouns and pronouns. For example, the subordinating conjunction that in the adjective phrase that ate the cookie in the sentence The puppy that ate the cookie belongs to me functions both as a subordinator and the subject of the clause that ate the cookie. The article The Syntactic Functions of Relative Pronouns in English explains the five syntactic functions of relative pronouns.

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    For a downloadable supplement that contains the lists of conjunctions in English, please refer to:

    For the grammatical functions of other grammatical forms, please see:

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