Section 4: Conjunctions

The structure class of conjunctions consists of three types: coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, and conjunctive adverbs. Each type of conjunction joins together grammatical units in a particular way.

Coordinating conjunctions always join like items. For example, coordinating conjunctions can:

  • join words: peanut butter and jelly
  • join phrases: very tasty but rather fattening
  • join clauses: after he ate dinner yet before his food had digested
  • join sentences: Stan didn’t want his dog begging at the table, so he put the dog outside.

Coordinating conjunctions can serve as KEY MARKERS when analyzing structures because they can oftentimes clarify ambiguity if you figure out what is being coordinated.

There are seven coordinating conjunctions. You can memorize them using the acronym FANBOYS: for, andnotbutoryetso.

The coordinators join grammatical structures of similar form, such as words to words and sentences to sentences. These connections create compound sentences.

I like peanut butter. I like jelly. I like peanut butter and jelly.

  • And joins two nouns: peanut butterjelly

I ate a sandwich. I was still hungry. I ate a sandwich, yet I was still hungry.

  • Yet joins two complete sentences, making a compound sentence.

Once joined, these grammatical structures function as a single grammatical unit.

Correlative conjunctions are a subclass of coordinating conjunctions. They consist of one of the coordinating conjunctions paired with other words that extend or modify their meanings: both…and, either…or, neither…nor, etc.

The grammatical structures that follow each of a correlative conjunction’s parts must be of similar form:

  • noun-noun: both students and faculty
  • verb phrase-verb phrase: not only composes the music but also writes the lyrics
  • clause-clause: Either you know the answer or you don’t.

I ate a sandwich. I also drank a glass of milk. I not only ate a sandwich but also drank a glass of milk.

  • Not only…but also is a correlative conjunction (a coordinating conjunction paired with other words to extend its meaning) that joins two phrases.

Conjunctive adverbs can connect and signal relationships between two sentences:

  • He was looking forward to a steak dinner; however, he couldn’t pay for it.
  • The experience was mortifying. Afterwards, he didn’t tell anyone about it.

Conjunctive adverbs are like conjunctions in that they connect and signal relationships between two sentences but are like adverbs in the kinds of meaning they express. They include words and phrases such as however (expressing contrast), also (expressing addition), accordingly (expressing cause and effect), for example (expressing an example)and earlier (expressing time).

Grammatically, the clauses joined by conjunctive adverbs retain their status as independent sentences. Therefore, they are punctuated with either semicolons or periods, NOT commas:

  • I’d like the red beans and rice; however I should stick with soup since my stomach is upset.
  • He’s an inveterate speeder. Consequently, he’s gotten a dozen moving violations.
  • We’re going to the movies. Afterwards

Note that conjunctive adverbs are punctuated with either a semicolon or a period, as though their sentences didn’t actually contain a conjunction.

CAUTION: Subordinating conjunctions can seem very similar to conjunctive adverbs. You can tell them apart by checking whether the conjunction alone or the entire clause it contains can be moved in the sentence:

He shortened his talk since they asked a lot of questions.

  • *He shortened his talk they since asked a lot questions.
  • Since they asked a lot of questions, he shortened his talk.

Because the entire clause can be moved but the conjunction alone cannot, so that is a coordinating conjunction that creates a dependent clause.

He shortened his talk; consequently, they asked a lot of questions.

  • He shortened his talk; they, consequently, asked a lot of questions.
  • *Consequently, they asked a lot of questions; he shortened his talk.

Because the conjunction alone can be moved within its clause, but the whole clause cannot be moved within the sentence, consequently is a conjunctive adverb in an independent clause.

To test your understanding of the concepts discussed on this page, begin with the link below for an example practice exercise:


For a bit more of a challenge, analyze the following sentence from Robinson Crusoe for conjunctions.

I told my mother that my thoughts were bent upon seeing the very wide world and that I should never settle to anything with resolution enough to go through with it; consequently, my father should give me his consent rather than force me to go without it.

To review your answers to these two samples, check the CONJUNCTION SAMPLES ANALYSES page.