Coordinating Conjunctions

Conjunctions are like bridges. They allow you to cross from idea to idea the way bridges allow people to cross from place to place. The coordinating conjunction is probably the most oft-used kind of conjunction, as it deals with ideas of equivalent value. It’s like a bridge between two states, two halves of a city, or from one county to the next. Although there's only a short list of coordinating conjunctions, there's quite a lot to be said about their uses in sentences, especially compound sentences. Some other key issues are conjunctions and commas, as well as how you tell apart coordinating and subordinating conjunctions.

Coordinating Conjunctions Coordinating Conjunctions

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    Coordinating Conjunctions List

    Before getting to the list of coordinating conjunctions, two definitions are in order.

    A conjunction connects words and ideas within a clause, between clauses, or between sentences.

    A coordinating conjunction links two clauses, phrases, or words of equal rank.

    Although you likely know coordinating conjunctions are the glue used to create compound sentences, you’ll notice that the definition includes binding more than just clauses. Coordinating conjunctions can bind phrases and words, too, so long as they are all equal. More on this later.

    First, these are the seven coordinating conjunctions.

    • And

    • But

    • For

    • Nor

    • Or

    • So

    • Yet

    Now, onward to exploring how to use these conjunctions in different types of sentences!

    Coordinating Conjunctions Sentences

    When creating sentences using coordinating conjunctions, the key idea is rank.

    In grammar, rank refers to something’s lesser or greater prominence in a sentence, clause, or phrase.

    So, you can say that two independent clauses are of all “equal rank,” two dependent clauses are of “equal rank,” two phrases are of “equal rank,” and two words are of “equal rank.”

    The following is how you would join these ranks using coordinating clauses, beginning with the smallest items of equal rank: words.

    Coordinating conjunctions. A bridge. StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - Think back to the bridge. Coordinating conjunctions link equivalent ideas, the way bridges link level ground.

    Coordinating Conjunctions to Link Words

    Here are a few examples.

    Fred and Joe

    Pizza or spaghetti

    Run and swim

    Close yet far

    In these examples, the words are of equal rank because they are simple words. They can be nouns, verbs, or adverbs. You can also create lists using this.

    Fred, Joe, and Chet

    Pizza, spaghetti, or breadsticks

    Run, jump, and swim

    What happens when the ideas get larger, though?

    Coordinating Conjunctions to Link Phrases

    To understand coordinating conjunctions in terms of linking phrases, you should have an idea of what a phrase is.

    A phrase is a group of words communicating an idea but lacking a subject and predicate together. A predicate is a verb or a verb and its object.

    Here are two simple sentences with a subject and a predicate.

    I (subject) play (predicate).

    I (subject) play ball (predicate).

    So, a phrase lacks a subject + predicate. It can include either but not both, like these:

    The angry man (subject)

    Ran toward the park (predicate)

    These phrases are quite incomplete without each other, which makes them “phrases” and not the more complete “clauses” (which will be explained next).

    Coordinating conjunctions can link such phrases like this:

    The angry man (phrase) and the angry woman (phrase)

    Ran toward the park (phrase) yet further away from home (phrase)

    Commas will also be discussed later on in more detail! However, you’ll notice that so far no commas have been required. This might come to you as a surprise if you’re used to thinking of coordinating conjunctions as joining independent clauses.

    Coordinating Conjunctions. A park. StudySmarter.Fig. 2 - A phrase is more or less anything that isn't a clause or a single word, such as, "in the park," which is a prepositional phrase.

    Coordinating Conjunctions to Link Dependent Clauses

    A clause is similar to a phrase but has precisely what a phrase lacks (clause + predicate).

    A clause has both a subject and a predicate.

    They are called sentences in addition to clauses when they stand completely alone.

    I play baseball.

    If a clause can’t stand alone as a sentence, it’s a dependent clause. A dependent clause uses a subordinating conjunction, of which there are over 50.

    Before (subordinating conjunction) I played baseball (clause)

    Together, it's a dependent clause: Before I played baseball

    This is a clause because it contains a subject and a predicate, and it’s a dependent clause because it can’t stand on its own as a sentence. You can actually combine two or more dependent clauses using a coordinating conjunction.

    Before I played ball (dependent clause) but after I was a swimmer (dependent clause).

    You can even create lists of dependent clauses.

    Before I played baseball (dependent clause), after I was a swimmer (dependent clause), and during the time I sprinted for the track and field team

    None of these clauses or linked clauses can stand alone as sentences, meaning all of these are also examples of incomplete sentences.

    This brings us to the largest unit that coordinating conjunctions can link: independent clauses. Unlike dependent clauses, these can stand alone as complete sentences.

    Compound Sentences with Coordinating Conjunctions

    All compound sentences have coordinating conjunctions.

    A compound sentence is two or more independent clauses joined together by coordinating conjunctions.

    An independent clause is a clause that can stand alone as a complete sentence.

    So, while dependent clauses (or subordinate clauses) possess subordinating conjunctions that prohibit them from standing alone, independent clauses do not inherently possess conjunctions of any kind.

    She gave me the letter.

    Although they don’t possess clauses by necessity, you can join independent clauses together using a type of conjunction: the coordinating conjunction.

    She gave me the letter, yet I never read it.

    Compound sentences are the only instance where you use a comma to join clauses, phrases, or words of equal rank. In this case, if you join two independent clauses together, there must be a comma before each new clause or coordinating conjunction.

    He got a B, she got an A, and I got an F for “Finally it’s over!”

    If that explanation of commas felt too spread out for your taste, the following section condenses the rules of commas and coordinating conjunctions.

    Commas with Coordinating Conjunctions

    The simple rule for commas and coordinating conjunctions is as follows:

    Coordinating conjunctions do not use commas unless:

    • They are joining independent clauses

    • Joining three or more items in a list

    The only possible exception is when two independent clauses are very short. In this case, you might be forgiven for lacking a comma.

    I ran but you walked.

    If you want to be totally proper, always err on the side of adding a comma.

    I ran, but you walked.

    The Case of Then: You might be wondering about the use of certain words...

    • I stopped, then you stopped.

    “Then” is not included in the list of seven coordinating conjunctions, and yet this use of “then” looks pretty familiar as a coordinating conjunction. What’s the deal? Traditionally, a grammarian would tell you that “then” is not the coordinating conjunction; rather, an omitted "and" is.

    • I stopped, and then you stopped.

    Different editors will tell you different things about what’s permissible. Some will tell you that this is strictly correct if you omit the "then":

    • I stopped; then you stopped.

    If you want to be as proper as possible, don’t use “then” as a coordinating conjunction by itself. Include “and" or use a semi-colon.

    Difference Between Coordinating and Subordinating Conjunctions

    Although it’s been touched on already, this section should make crystal clear the difference between coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions.

    A coordinating conjunction links two clauses, phrases, or words of equal rank.

    A subordinating conjunction combines an independent clause and a dependent clause, which are not considered the same rank because a dependent clause requires an independent clause. This makes dependent clauses lower ranked.

    Here’s a dependent clause with its subordinating conjunction.

    Before I ran away

    This clause requires an independent clause to complete the idea. The subordinating conjunction “before” leaves us hanging.

    I paid my dues before I ran away.

    Yet, “I paid my dues” is a complete idea, an independent clause, which doesn’t require “before I ran away” to make sense. You would use a coordinating conjunction to bind it to another similarly independent clause.

    I paid my dues, and you left me out to dry.

    Remember, there are just seven coordinating conjunctions. If the conjunction is not one of these seven, then it’s some other kind of conjunction. A subordinating conjunction will complete the idea of a dependent clause by binding it to an independent clause. Fun fact, the other two kinds of conjunctions are correlative conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs!

    Coordinating Conjunctions - Key Takeaways

    • A coordinating conjunction links two clauses, phrases, or words of equal rank.
    • The seven coordinating conjunctions are: and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet.
    • All compound sentences contain coordinating conjunctions.
    • Coordinating conjunctions do not use commas unless they join independent clauses or three or more items in a list.
    • Unlike coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions combine an independent clause and a dependent clause, which are not considered the same rank because a dependent clause requires an independent clause.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Coordinating Conjunctions

    What are coordinating conjunctions?

    Coordinating conjunctions link two clauses, phrases, or words of equal rank.

    What are the 7 coordinating conjunctions?

    The seven coordinating conjunctions are: and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet.

    What are examples of coordinating conjunctions?

    "And" is the most common coordinating conjunction. Here it's used to coordinate two independent clauses as a compound sentence: "She walked to the store, and he drove a car there."

    How do you use coordinating conjunctions?

    You use them to link clauses, phrases, or words of equal rank. For instance, you can use them to link two independent clauses or two dependent clauses.

    What are the 4 types of coordinating conjunctions?

    There are not four types of coordinating conjunctions, although there are four types of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, and conjunctive adverbs.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which is not a coordinating conjunction?

    Which is a coordinating conjunction?

    Which is an independent clause?

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