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Subordinating Conjunctions

A subordinating conjunction is a term in English grammar. If something is subordinate, it means that it is lower in rank within a larger framework. For instance, a student is subordinate to a teacher at school. So, a subordinating conjunction places one idea within a larger idea. The larger idea is the independent clause, while the subordinated idea is the dependent clause.

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Subordinating Conjunctions

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A subordinating conjunction is a term in English grammar. If something is subordinate, it means that it is lower in rank within a larger framework. For instance, a student is subordinate to a teacher at school. So, a subordinating conjunction places one idea within a larger idea. The larger idea is the independent clause, while the subordinated idea is the dependent clause.

Subordinating Conjunctions Definition

A subordinating conjunction is a kind of conjunction, so it’s useful to know the latter’s definition independently.

A conjunction connects clauses or words within the same clause.

The most common example is and. Other common examples include which, because, or, if, and but.

A subordinating conjunction fits within this framework.

A subordinating conjunction connects an independent clause to a dependent clause.

An independent clause is a sentence that can stand on its own with a period, such as, “I like to drink soda.”

A dependent clause contains a subject and a verb (like an independent clause), but it cannot stand alone as a sentence, such as, “when I am sleepy.” A dependent clause only adds some kind of context or condition to the sentence.

Here’s a sentence that contains a subordinating conjunction, highlighted in pink.

I like to drink soda when I am sleepy.

You'll notice this sentence contains no comma. However, sometimes you need a comma for a subordinating conjunction. The comma rule for subordinating conjunctions is as follows: If the dependent clause comes before the dependent clause, use a comma; however, if the dependent clause follows the independent clause, you probably won't use a comma.

When I am sleepy, I like to drink soda.

This is how the previous sentence would be phrased if you wanted it to include a comma.

Subordinating conjunctions (the words themselves) are not unique. For example, so can be a subordinating conjunction, a coordinating conjunction, or an adverb. What makes so a subordinating conjunction is how it’s used grammatically. A subordinating conjunction is any word that connects an independent clause to a dependent clause.

Another name for a dependent clause is a subordinate clause.

Types Of Subordinating Conjunctions

You can further divide subordinating conjunctions into types based on their descriptive function. Subordinating conjunctions share a grammatical function, but they do different things in terms of a sentence’s meaning.

You can broadly divide subordinating conjunctions into six types: conjunctions for admission, conjunctions for comparison, conjunctions for condition, conjunctions for explaining, conjunctions for placement, and conjunctions for time.

Subordinating conjunctions. An hourglass. StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - A subordinating conjunction might contextualize when something occurs.

Examples will highlight the subordinating conjunction.

Conjunctions for Admissions

These subordinating conjunctions describe how something is not totally the case. You admit some kind of exception.

Even though you’re my friend, you can’t help me.

Some other subordinating conjunctions for admissions include: although, if, albeit, and lest.

A coordinating conjunction is not limited to one word, although it’s not more than two or three.

Conjunctions for Comparison

These subordinating conjunctions describe how two things are alike or different. You take a look at two or more things.

Rachel likes cake, while Rebekah prefers ice cream.

Some other subordinating conjunctions for comparison include: whereas, instead of, as much as, and just as.

Conjunctions for comparison often take a comma, even when following an independent clause. Commas in these situations often provide clarity.

Conjunctions for Condition

These subordinating conjunctions describe how something exists (or doesn’t) based on some condition. You show that something is conditional.

If you do that, you won’t get any supper, Andy.

Some other subordinating conjunctions for conditions include: but only if, assuming, and whether or not.

Conjunctions for Explaining

These subordinating conjunctions describe why something is. You explain why something is the case.

Because you’re old enough, you can drive a car.

Some other subordinating conjunctions for explaining include: so, as, in order to, and for.

Subordinating conjunctions. Teen. StudySmarter.Fig. 2 - A subordinating conjunction can also explain why something isn't the case.

Conjunctions for Placement

These subordinating conjunctions describe where something is placed, spatially. You create a spatial relationship.

I like Cedar Hills, where I am.

Another subordinating conjunction for placement includes wherever.

Conjunctions for Time

These subordinating conjunctions describe when something happens. You create a temporal relationship.

I’ll work here when I am older.

Some other subordinating conjunctions for time include: after, before, whenever, and until.

Subordinating Conjunctions List

Here’s a list of common subordinating conjunctions:

  • After
  • Although
  • As long as
  • As soon as
  • Because
  • Before
  • Even if
  • Even though
  • Hence
  • In case
  • In order to
  • Lest
  • Now that
  • Once
  • Presuming
  • Provided that
  • Rather than
  • Since
  • So
  • Than
  • Though
  • Unless
  • When
  • Whether or not
  • While

Subordinating Conjunctions Examples

Here are several examples of subordinating conjunctions in sentences. The subordinating conjunction is listed on the left and underlined in the example on the right.

ConjunctionIn a sentence...

After

My old friend, a gardener, came by after a sojourn through the misty mountains.

As soon as

I will go to the pond to while away the afternoon as soon as I'm able.

Because

Because you are my teacher, I will give you this one chance to surrender.

Before

Before you go, please allow me to introduce myself.

Even if

He wouldn’t smile even if he knew you well.

Hence

She’s a dancer, hence her grace is incredible.

In case

In case you were wondering, the cobbler closes his doors at seven.

So

You should wash the sink so that I don’t have to.

Here’s a full paragraph containing several subordinating conjunctions. Try to find them all!

Tobias is a good guitar player, whether or not he wins today’s competition. When I first met him, he played Jeff Beck’s “Constipated Duck” (1975) while I watched him from the hall. I’ve known Tobias for a long time, and I know he’s devoted to improvement. He has a killer ear for jazz improvisation, one that will help him for a lifetime to come.

Now, here is the paragraph with all the subordinating conjunctions highlighted.

Tobias is a good guitar player, whether or not he wins today’s competition. When I first met him, he played Jeff Beck’s “Constipated Duck” while I watched him from the hall. I’ve known Tobias for a long time, and I know he’s devoted to improvement. He has a killer ear for jazz improvisation, one that will help him for a lifetime to come.

In the final sentence, “one that” is not a subordinating conjunction. Here, “one” is actually a noun. Notice also how you can’t remove “one that” to create a complete sentence. Without a subordinating conjunction, a subordinate clause becomes a complete sentence, perhaps after a tweak. Additionally, "for a lifetime to come" is a prepositional phrase.

Complex Sentences With Subordinating Conjunctions

Complex sentences have subordinating conjunctions. So, every example in the previous section is also an example of a complex sentence.

A complex sentence contains one independent and one or more subordinating (dependent) clauses.

Subordinating conjunctions are the hallmark of complex sentences. Therefore, every example in every section of this article is an example of a complex sentence. So, rest easy knowing that you’ve also figured out a lot about complex sentences by learning what you have about subordinating conjunctions!

Subordinating conjunctions can also appear in the compound-complex sentence. In this kind of sentence, there are at least two independent clauses and one dependent clause. A compound-complex sentence might look like this:

I went home after I went to the store, and now I’m resting.

In this sentence, “after” is a subordinating conjunction while “and” is a coordinating conjunction.

Subordinating Conjunctions - Key Takeaways

  • A subordinating conjunction connects an independent clause to a dependent clause.
  • An independent clause is a sentence that can stand on its own with a period, such as, “I like to drink soda.”
  • A dependent clause contains a subject and a verb (like an independent clause), but it cannot stand alone as a sentence, such as, “when I am sleepy.”
  • You can broadly divide subordinating conjunctions into six types: conjunctions for admission, conjunctions for comparison, conjunctions for condition, conjunctions for explaining, conjunctions for placement, and conjunctions for time.
  • A complex sentence contains one independent and one or more subordinating (dependent) clauses.

Frequently Asked Questions about Subordinating Conjunctions

A subordinating conjunction connects an independent clause to a dependent clause.

They connect two clauses: an independent clause to a dependent (or subordinating) clause.

In the following example, "when" is a subordinating conjunction: "I like to drink soda when I am sleepy."

There are many subordinating conjunctions. Some include: after, although, before, even if, now that, so, when, and while.

If the dependent clause comes before the dependent clause, use a comma; however, if the dependent clause follows the independent clause, you probably won't use a comma.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

A conjunction always links two or more independent clauses.

A conjunction can connect clauses or words within a clause.

It connects an independent and dependent clause.

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