Correlative Conjunctions

Some things just come in twos. Take a pair of pants. Where would you be with just one leg? Likewise, correlative conjunctions always come in pairs. If a conjunction doesn’t have a match, it isn’t a correlative conjunction. The way that one pant leg isn’t quite a fashion statement, one correlative conjunction isn’t quite a correlative conjunction. Here is a definition, the rules, and some examples for the double trouble of grammatical conjunctions.

Correlative Conjunctions Correlative Conjunctions

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    Correlative Conjunctions Definition

    To understand correlative conjunctions, two definitions are in order.

    Conjunction: a word that connects words and ideas within a clause, between clauses, or between sentences.

    Correlative conjunction: a pair of words that show a relationship between or within clauses.

    A simple coordinating conjunction is “and.”

    Roger slept and slept.

    A correlative conjunction is distinct from other conjunctions because, unlike “and,” one word doesn’t suffice. You need two words, such as “either/or.”

    Either run away or stay and fight.

    In this sentence, the correlative conjunction either/or sets up a dichotomy. It presents a relationship where you have to pick one or the other.

    There are several common correlative conjunctions, which you can compile into a list.

    Adding Emphasis: Correlative conjunctions are not unique in their ability to create relationships. In fact, in some ways, they are redundant. Take again the sentence, “Either run away or stay and fight.” There’s not a whole lot of difference between that and “Run away or stay and fight,” which uses a coordinating conjunction. Sometimes, then, what a correlative conjunction adds is emphasis.

    Consider the difference between, “Take the book and the pencil,” which uses a coordinating conjunction, and, “Take both the book and the pencil,” which uses a correlative conjunction. The latter adds emphasis that no, really, take both.

    Correlative Conjunctions List

    Here is a list of common correlative conjunctions.

    • As/as

    • As many/as

    • As much/as

    • Both/and

    • Either/or

    • Neither/nor

    • No sooner/than

    • Not only/but also

    • Rather/than

    • Scarcely/when

    • Such/that

    • What with/and

    • Whether/or

    This is not an exhaustive list of correlative conjunctions. However, it includes most of the ones you’ll run across.

    The following will show you how to use these correlative conjunctions in sentences.

    Examples Of Correlative Conjunctions

    Here are some examples of correlative conjunctions, so you can get a better idea of what they look like.

    They ran as fast as a destrier.

    The gadgeteer bought as many clocks as possible.

    Have as much cake as you want.

    You can see how at least one-half of each pair requires a second conjunction to work. “The gadget maker bought as many clocks” isn’t a viable sentence, for instance, nor is “Have as much cake.”

    Neither the barber nor the shepherd saw her on the night of the murder.

    Scarcely had the station wagon started to move when it broke down in a blast of smoke.

    Such is the way of the world that a poet must go commercial.

    Correlative conjunctions can be tricky because they often don’t look or sound quite normal. Take the second example, “Scarcely had the station wagon started to move when it broke down in a blast of smoke.” This is a perfectly good use of a correlative conjunction, and yet some readers might find it uncanny or perplexing. This could be due to the length or the fact that some correlative conjunctions just sound archaic.

    She’s coming whether you’re ready or not.

    No sooner had he won the game than the casino asked him to leave.

    Not only is Dray a stand-up guy, but he’s also funny as heck.

    You’ll notice that the final example in this set uses a comma, whereas none of the others do. This isn’t a mistake. Next up, you should know the rules for correlative conjunctions, and — among other things — why some use commas while others don’t.

    Correlative conjunctions. Laughing boy. StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - Correlative conjunctions can express a wide range of emotive relationships.

    Correlative Conjunctions Rules

    Here are the rules for correlative conjunctions and commas. Take a look at these two examples. One you’ll recognize.

    Not only is Dray a stand-up guy, but he’s also funny as heck.

    Dray is not only nice but also funny!

    In the first example, “but also” takes a comma, while in the second example, “but also” doesn’t. This is because, in the first example, “but also” joins two independent clauses.

    Clause: words that have both a subject and a predicate.

    Independent clause: a clause that can stand alone as a complete sentence.

    Here are two independent clauses. When left alone, they are grammatically correct English sentences.

    Dray (subject) is a stand-up guy (predicate).

    He (subject) is funny as heck (predicate).

    So here’s the deal, which is always the case: when you join two independent clauses using a conjunction, you need to put a comma between the two independent clauses.

    When you combine the two sentences “Dray is a stand-up guy” and “He’s funny as heck” using “but also,” the result is a compound sentence that takes a comma.

    Not only is Dray a stand-up guy, but he’s also funny as heck.

    On the other hand, the sentence, “Dray is not only nice but also funny,” doesn’t have two independent clauses. It has one clause with two adjectives. Here is the clause broken down:

    Dray is nice + funny

    So, this sentence simply needs a conjunction to join the two adjectives. One way would be to use a simple coordinating conjunction, which can join words.

    Joining using a coordinating conjunction:

    Dray is nice and funny.

    However, if you want to emphasize that Dray’s niceness and funniness impress you, you can use correlative conjunctions.

    Joining using correlative conjunctions:

    Dray is not only nice but also funny!

    Not only/but also is not the only pair of correlative conjunctions that you find combining independent clauses. Here’s a final example that uses the simple either/or.

    Either you clear out, or we call the police.

    Just as with the original "Dray" example, this compound sentence combines two independent clauses with correlative conjunctions. Again, you can tell they're clauses because they contain a subject and a predicate, and they're independent because they can stand alone as complete sentences.

    Correlative conjunctions. Pair of pants. StudySmarter.Fig. 2 - So don't forget another ubiquitous pairing: the independent clause + comma!

    Correlative Conjunction Sentences

    If you’re having trouble with a sentence — wondering whether or not a word in it is a correlative conjunction — use these tips to troubleshoot.

    So, the first rule of the correlative conjunction is that they always come in twos. That means even if you see a word that is commonly a correlative conjunction, you can’t assume that it is.

    Agatha has two brooms, neither of which flies.

    Neither is one of those words that you immediately think, neither/nor! However, in the above example, neither doesn’t have or need nor because neither is not being used as a correlative conjunction in the sentence. It’s being used as a determiner.

    A determiner indicates a noun.

    For example, in the phrase “That badger,” the word that is a determiner because it specifies which badger: That one. In the sentence, “Agatha has two brooms, neither of which flies,” the word neither is a determiner because it specifies Agatha’s two brooms.

    Here’s another common trap. Take “but also.” As we've seen, the conjunction “but also” is a very common correlative conjunction. However, just because you see “but also” used in a conjunctive manner, it isn’t always a correlative conjunction.

    Hassan, but also Mary, got a brand new car.

    Here, “but also” is a conjunction. However, it’s not a correlative conjunction because where’s the other half?

    Bottom line: a correlative conjunction needs a second one to be a correlative conjunction. Otherwise, it’s something else!

    Correlative Conjunctions - Key Takeaways

    • A correlative conjunction is a pair of words that show a relationship between or within clauses.
    • Correlative conjunctions can be verbose, but they can also add emphasis where other conjunctions don't.
    • Common correlative conjunctions include as/as, both/and, either/or, not only/but also, and whether/or.
    • If a correlative conjunction combines two independent clauses, you need a comma between the clauses.
    • Correlative conjunctions always come in pairs. Don't confuse the appearance of common correlative conjunctions like "neither" in other contexts!
    Frequently Asked Questions about Correlative Conjunctions

    What are correlative conjunctions?

    A correlative conjunction is a pair of words that show a relationship between or within clauses.

    What is an example of a correlative conjunction pair?

    Either/or is an example of a pair of correlative conjunctions. "Either run away or stay and fight."

    What is the use of a correlative conjunction?

    You can use a correlative conjunction to show relationships. They can also add emphasis. Consider the difference between, “Take the book and the pencil,” which uses a coordinating conjunction, and, “Take both the book and the pencil,” which uses a correlative conjunction. The latter adds emphasis that no, really, take both.

    What is a correlative conjunction with examples?

    A correlative conjunction is a pair of words that show a relationship between or within clauses. An example would be, "Such is the way of the world that a poet must go commercial."

    What are the 7 correlative conjunctions?

    There are not seven correlative conjunctions. There are seven coordinating conjunctions. There are numerous examples of correlative conjunctions, which always come in pairs such as "either/or" and "both/and."

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

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

    It is a pair of words that show a relationship between or within clauses.

    Which is correct?

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