Section 4: Subordinators

While subordinators can also be categorized as a conjunction, we've included it separately because it is more similar to relatives and interrogatives in that it is a KEY MARKER for dependent clauses. In this respect, subordinators are the KEY MARKERS for subordinate clauses, which are joined (or subordinated) to an independent (main) clause:

  • He couldn’t order a steak dinner [independent clause] because he had forgotten his wallet [subordinate clause].
  • Since the man could not pay for his dinner [subordinate clause], he washed dishes [independent clause].

Unlike coordinating conjunctions, subordinators as part of a subordinate clause create complex sentences by joining unequal grammatical structures: independent and dependent clauses. The independent clause can stand on its own as a sentence; the dependent clause requires the independent clause to make a complete sentence:

Harold sang old sea ditties while he prepared dinner.

  • Harold sang old sea ditties makes a complete sentence (independent clause).
  • while he prepared dinner only works with Harold sang old sea ditties(dependent clause).

Subordinators often draw from the same list of words as prepositions, so it's important that you understand the difference between a subordinate clause and a prepositional phrase. In short, a subordinator precedes an entire clause, and a preposition precedes a nominal only.

CAUTION: Subordinators 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.

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 subordinators.

Since 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, 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 SUBORDINATOR SAMPLES ANALYSES page.