Conjunctions: A Simple Definition
Updated: Apr 16, 2021
A conjunction can be defined simply as a linking word. A conjunction can link two words (e.g., “big and tall,”) or clauses (e.g., “I wanted to travel this summer, but I couldn’t get the time off work.”)
Coordinating Conjunction vs. Subordinating Conjunction
Coordinating conjunctions connect two terms that hold equal weight within a sentence, whereas subordinating conjunctions are used when one part of a sentence is to be given more attention than another.
To show how coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions differ from one another, we will investigate a sentence that contains two clauses: “She got home” and “She went straight to bed.”
If these two pieces of information are equally important, the writer should use a coordinating conjunction, such as and, or but.
She got home, and she went straight to bed.
However, perhaps only one of these clauses is important, with the other clause simply giving additional information. In this case, the writer should use a subordinating conjunction, such as although or because, to emphasize the important clause.
To emphasize the clause “she went straight to bed,” the author might write the following:
After she got home, she went straight to bed.
(Notice how a conjunction does not need to be placed between the two clauses to connect them.)
Correlative conjunctions are pairs of words. One of the words is a coordinating conjunction, while the other word is used to set up the coordinating conjunction. Examples of correlative conjunction pairs are either / or, neither / nor, and both / and.
Either eat what’s on your plate or go to bed hungry.
Conjunction vs. Conjunctive Adverb
It is important to note that conjunctions are not normally used to begin sentences.* For example, you would probably not want to write
They went out for dinner. And then they went to the movies.
Because and is a conjunction, you would instead want to write
They went out for dinner, and then they went to the movies.
If you wanted to put these two clauses into separate sentences, you would need to use a conjunctive adverb. Conjunctive adverbs are used to connect two sentences, and, unlike conjunctions, they are able to begin sentences. Using the conjunctive adverb afterward, you could write
They went out for dinner. Afterward, they went to the movies.
*If a piece of writing is informal or creative, starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is acceptable.
Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.