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What Is a Conjunction?

By Cynde Gregory
Updated May 23, 2024
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Love and marriage, fish or chicken — English speakers couldn't function without conjunctions. A quick look at the syllables in conjunction should be enough to tell any educated reader that the word means to join. The prefix, con, means together with. A junction, of course, is the intersection of two things or ideas. Conjunctions, then, are grammatical bits that marry two sentence parts.

Few things in English are simple, and conjunctions are proof of that. They come in several types of packaging. The simplest conjunctions are just one word. A simple conjunction can bring two things together in a relationship of equality, exclusion, or in other ways. Single-word conjunctions include and, but, and or as well as for and yet.

Most grammatical uses of for are prepositional. Conjugational uses can make the speaker sound a tad pretentious. For example, a speaker who announces “I was late to the party for I wanted to stop to purchase flowers first” is likely to have few folks to talk to at the party, flowers or not.

Yet is another conjugational word that has other grammatical functions as well as other definitions. As a conjunction, it means still or but. An example is found in the statement “She wishes she were thinner, but she won’t stop nibbling on sour cream potato chips.”

More complex are compound conjunctions. These are phrases that finish with words like that or as. The overweight gal from the previous paragraph will find that, as soon as she dumps the chips, she will start to dump the weight.

Another more complicated type of conjunction are correlatives. These are pairs of conjunctions used to match pairs of words or ideas. In the statement “Whether you understand calories or not, they still count,” whether and or not are correlatives. Other commonly used correlative conjunctions include so and that, either and or, and both and and.

These three forms of conjunctions fulfill two distinct types of jobs. In the first case, coordinating conjunctions are used to balance two equal sentence elements. Imagining a teeter-totter that holds two words or phrases of equal weight makes this idea clearer. Yesterday and today might sit at opposite ends, or going to a movie might balance staying at home.

The second function is fulfilled by subordinating conjunctions. Words like because, since, and although fill this category. In sentences using subordinating conjunctions, one idea depends upon another: Unless that woman stops eating sour cream potato chips, she will never lose weight.

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Discussion Comments

By Wisedly33 — On Feb 08, 2015

@Scrbblchick -- Sounds like you're about my age. I always loved "Conjunction Junction." I think that might have been my very favorite of all the "Schoolhouse Rock" songs.

I think the conjunctions people have the most trouble with are the "either/or" and "neither/nor" combinations. I learned it by remembering "neither" and "nor" both began with "n." So that's how I linked them together in my memory. It's amazing how language forms words to meet its needs. People just came up with words that did what they wanted them to do. The formation of language is fascinating, to say the least.

By Scrbblchick — On Feb 07, 2015

"Conjunction Junction, what's your function?" I'm betting most people who grew up in the 70s remember this from "Schoolhouse Rock." It really helped me learn how to link up my sentences.

The worst part about conjunctions is diagramming the silly things. You have to do a two-prong line from the subject or predicate, with the nouns on top and bottom, and a dotted line with the conjunction connecting them. That always irritated me when I was diagramming, because it took up so much room on the page, if you wanted to be able to read the words in the diagram.

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