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Subordinating and coordinating conjunctions
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Khadija Attarabulsi from Libya writes:

Would you please help me to learn and understand coordinating and subordinating conjunctions? I would be so grateful if you could explain them in full. Thank you in advance.

Roger Woodham replies:
  Conjunctions are joining words and their main function is to link together two different parts of a sentence.

And / but / or (coordinating conjunctions)

And, but and or are the three main coordinating conjunctions. They join two clauses which are grammatically independent of each other and would make sense if they stood alone. Compare the following:

  1. She's already had two holidays this year and now she wants another one.

    She's already had two holidays this year. Now she wants another one.

  2. I had a terrible cold last week, but I still went to work.

    I had a terrible cold last week. I still went to work.

  3. You can sit at the front, or you can stand at the back. I don't mind.

    You can sit at the front. You can stand at the back. I don't mind.


    But note they way in which conjunctions help to add meaning to the sentence. And indicates that we are listing items or ideas, or means that we are discussing alternatives and but means that we are contrasting facts or ideas.

    Note also that in the second of the two coordinating clauses, the subject words and modal auxiliaries can often be left out:
  • She's already had two holidays this year and now wants another one.

  • I had a terrible cold last week, but still went to work.

  • You can sit at the front or stand at the back. I don't mind.

This is not normally possible in subordinate clauses. Compare the following:

  • She was anxious and unhappy and didn't know where her husband was.

  • She was anxious and unhappy because she didn't know where her husband was.
    (NOT: She was anxious and unhappy because didn't know where her husband was.)


 
   

If / when / because / since / even though / etc (subordinating conjunctions)

Words like if, when, because, since, although, etc, are subordinating conjunctions which introduce subordinate clauses. Subordinate clauses are dependent on the main clause in some way and do not normally stand alone.

Note the way in which subordinating conjunctions also give meaning to the sentence:


* if suggests a condition
* when / whenever indicate time
* while suggests time or contrast of surprising facts
* because points to reason
* since suggests reason or time
* as suggests reason or time
* although / though / even though all indicate a contrast of surprising facts

Compare the following examples of use and note the way the same conjunction (e.g. while, since, as) can be used for different purposes. Subordinating clauses of this kind can normally go first or last in the sentence, depending on what you want to emphasize:

  • If you feel thirsty or hungry, help yourself to anything at all in the fridge or freezer.
    Help yourself to anything at all in the fridge or freezer, if you feel hungry or thirsty.

  • While they were away, I helped myself to an ice-cold beer and a pizza from the freezer.
    I helped myself to an ice-cold beer and a pizza from the freezer while they were away.

  • Whenever I babysit at their house, I am always very well looked after.
    I am always very well looked after whenever I babysit at their house.

  • When I babysat for the Robinsons last month, I was given nothing to eat or drink.
    I was given nothing to eat or drink when I babysat for the Robinsons last month.

  • While I am fond of their children, I think the parents are very mean.
    (BUT NOT: I think the parents are very mean while I am fond of their children)

  • Since I started working full-time, I don't have so much time now for babysitting.
    I don't have so much time now for babysitting since I started working full-time.

  • Because / since / as I work six days a week, I can't even find time to see my friends.
    I can't even find time to see my friends as I work six days a week.

  • As I was leaving work the other day, I bumped into an old friend.
    I bumped into an old friend as I was leaving work the other day.

  • Although I am happy with my life, I think I should try and get out more.
    I think I should try and get out more, even though I am happy with my life.

 
   

If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

     
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