“To be, or not to be?” –“Hamlet”
“I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!” –“The Wizard of Oz”
“If you build it, he will come.” –“Field of Dreams”
Most English conjunctions are short, teeny-tiny words. Blink, and you’ll miss them. You might not even notice these tiny words in a sentence.
But they’re everywhere. And they’re important.
If you were to count the number of conjunctions used in just one scene, I bet you’d count at least five—probably more like 10 or 20!
So it makes sense that it’s time to learn English conjunctions.
They make up the sentences you speak every minute of every day.
What Are Conjunctions?
A conjunction is a part of speech, just like a noun, verb or pronoun. The basic purpose of a conjunction is to combine other parts of speech.
Conjunctions can combine two basic words:
Do you prefer pizza or salad?
I run and play every day.
They can also combine clauses:
Until next month, I can’t afford to go to the movies.
Or, you can take two sentences and combine them into one sentence with a conjunction. For example, look at these sentences:
I can play the guitar.
My husband can sing.
Using the conjunction “and,” you can create one sentence:
I can play the guitar, and my husband can sing.
Let’s look at one more example. Look at these two sentences:
I like school.
I don’t like math class.
Separately, those two sentences seem to be in conflict with each other. You don’t like math class? I thought you just said you like school, and math is a part of school!
You can combine these two ideas into one sentence using the word “but,” which connects two opposing ideas:
“I like school, but I don’t like math class.”
Now, people will understand that you enjoy school in general. However, math class is the one part of school you don’t like. Using that conjunction makes your point much easier to understand!
See? Conjunctions can be useful as well as convenient.
Conjunctions are extremely common. Once you become advanced enough to put together basic sentences in English, the next logical step is to learn conjunctions.
How to Master English Conjunctions
When it comes to other parts of speech, I might recommend memorizing definitions before learning to use them in a sentence. For example, you should learn what the word “cat” is before talking about cats.
However, when it comes to conjunctions, the best way to learn how they’re used is just to dive in!
Conjunctions don’t always have clear, easy-to-understand definitions. Instead, they have rules about when to use them. So, the best way to learn is to practice using them in sentences correctly. Then, keep practicing, practice again and practice some more.
There are a lot of English conjunctions, so it can be easy to get confused. The best way to figure out when to use each one is to see and hear them used in real-life scenarios.
FluentU is a great tool for this. FluentU takes real-world videos—like celebrity interviews, music videos and movie trailers—and turns them into English language learning lessons.
You won’t just hear real examples of English conjunctions being used. You’ll also receive learning material.
Each video features annotated subtitles. Just hover over a word to see the definition, part of speech and an associated image. You can also click on a word to see a list of more FluentU videos that include this word.
Use FluentU’s advanced search tool to watch videos using specific conjunctions. Try searching “conjunctions” or the specific word to find the video that fits your needs.
After watching a video, hop on over to Quiz Mode. These interactive quizzes help you learn the definition, pronunciation and practical use for words. And, FluentU builds a digital flashcard set for words you need more practice with.
Looking for an app dedicated exclusively to conjunctions? You might like easyLearn Conjunctions & Interjections, a simple app that’s a great place for true beginners to start. With eight different question formats and plenty of quizzes, this app can help you master English conjunctions.
27 Common English Conjunctions and How to Use Them
There are three types of English conjunctions: coordinating, subordinating and correlative.
Let’s break up the following conjunctions using each of these three categories. We’ll start with the simplest type (coordinating conjunctions) before moving on to more difficult territory.
Coordinating conjunctions are the words that probably come to mind when you think of English conjunctions. They’re the most basic type, and they connect two sentences or ideas together.
There are seven coordinating conjunctions, and there’s actually an easy way to remember them. Just use the acronym FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
Here are the definitions and uses of each coordinating conjunction, as well as some example sentences.
When to use it: You’re providing a reason for something (similar to the word “because,” which we’ll cover later in this post).
“I eat at the café every weekend, for they serve the best bagels in town.”
When to use it: “And” joins two ideas, things or sentences together.
“I have two cats and one dog.”
“I drink coffee in the morning. I drink wine in the evenings.” This can turn into “I drink coffee in the morning, and I drink wine in the evenings” or “I drink coffee in the morning and wine in the evenings.”
When to use it: When you have a negative statement, “nor” adds another negative alternative.
“My mom was not happy, nor was she upset. She didn’t care.”
When to use it: This conjunction connects two ideas, similar to how you might use the word “and.” However, while “and” connects two alike ideas/things, “but” connects contrasting ideas/things.
“I want to go to the movies, but Sarah wants to go out to eat.”
If you said “I want to go to the movies, and Sarah wants to go out to eat,” that would imply that you and Sarah are going to do both activities. Using the word “but” communicates that you are going to do either one or the other.
When to use it: “Or” presents an alternative to an option.
“Would you rather wear a dress or jeans?”
“We can go to the movies or we can go out to eat.”
When to use it: When you present a statement, “yet” presents an idea that contrasts the first statement logically.
“I don’t like soda, yet I think root beer floats are delicious.”
When to use it: This conjunction gives a reason for something.
“I have to wake up early, so I don’t stay out late.”
“John is struggling in his math class, so he hired a tutor.”
Subordinating conjunctions are a little more complex than coordinating conjunctions. These English conjunctions connect a dependent clause to an independent clause.
Don’t know what those two terms mean? That’s okay—a lot of native English speakers couldn’t tell you if you asked them!
An independent clause is a group of words that make up a sentence. For example: “I know how to play basketball.”
A dependent clause is a group of words that don’t make up a sentence on their own. For example: “of my dad.”
Subordinating conjunctions connect these dependent clauses to independent clauses. If you add the subordinating conjunction “because,” you can combine those two clauses:
“Because of my dad, I know how to play basketball.”
Now it’s clear that your dad taught you how to play basketball.
Occasionally, the group of words that make up a dependent clause can make up a complete sentence. But for these sentences, the dependent clause still needs to be connected to an independent clause for context.
For example, if the dependent clause is “I wash my face” and the independent clause is “I can’t go to bed,” you can connect them with “until.”
“I can’t go to bed until I wash my face.”
There are a lot of subordinating conjunctions, but let’s just cover some of the most common!
When to use it: “Although” means “even though,” or in spite of something.
“Although she is a great creative writer, she has trouble writing academic papers.”
When to use it: “Though” can often be used the same way as “although.” However, it’s more likely to be found in the middle of a sentence than “although.”
“Though I don’t drink milk, I do pour milk in my coffee.”
“I don’t drink milk, though I do pour milk in my coffee.”
When to use it: “While” refers to the moment something is/was happening.
“The mailman delivered a package while you were at school.”
“While you were at school, the mailman delivered a package.”
When to use it: “If” introduces what to do in the event that something happens.
“You can eat an apple if you get hungry before dinner.”
“If you get hungry before dinner, you can eat an apple.”
When to use it: This conjunction means “up to the point that something happens.”
“I can stay until 12:00 today, but then I have to go to work.”
“I am on vacation until January 5th.”
When to use it: Use “whether” when expressing a choice between two options. In many cases, “whether” is used along with the conjunction “or.”
You can also use “whether” to express an investigation. In this case, you probably won’t use “or.”
“I can’t decide whether I want rice or beans.”
Below is an investigative situation in which you don’t use “or.”
John [on the phone]: “Hello, Mrs. Smith. Is Mary home?”
Mrs. Smith: “I’m not sure. Let me check whether she’s in her room.”
When to use it: Use “after” to talk about what happens in the period of time following something else.
“I went to church after my hair appointment.”
“After my hair appointment, I went to church.”
When to use it: “Before” is the opposite of “after.” Use “before” to talk about what happens in the period of time preceding something else.
“I had a hair appointment before I went to church.”
“Before I went to church, I had a hair appointment.”
When to use it: “Because” explains the reason for something.
“I’m staying home tonight because Sarah canceled our plans.”
When to use it: The primary use of “since” is to talk about the amount of time that something has been happening.
You can also use “since” as a synonym for “because.”
“She has been wearing makeup since she was 16 years old.”
“He has been afraid of driving since the car crash last year.”
“I’m staying home tonight since Sarah canceled our plans.”
When to use it: This conjunction refers to the time that something was happening.
“I loved ice cream when I was a kid.”
“When I was a kid, I loved ice cream.”
When to use it: You may know “where” as a word to talk about a place. It’s a little different when you use it as a conjunction.
The English conjunction “where” can be used to mean “whereas.”
“Where some people don’t care about politics, others consider it one of the most important things in their lives.”
When to use it: “How” describes the way that something is or happens.
“Tell me the story of how you and mom fell in love.”
When to use it: When you’re comparing two things, “than” can be used to introduce the second thing.
“He’s much nicer than his sister.”
“I’d rather eat at a restaurant than at home.”
Correlative conjunctions are conjunctions that come in pairs. You need both words for the sentence to make sense, and they must be in the correct order.
Here are some of the most common pairs of correlative conjunctions. This is the most complicated group of conjunctions, so I’m including a few example sentences for each pair to help you gain a better understanding.
When to use them: I briefly mentioned this pairing when discussing “whether” previously. Use “whether/or” to talk about two options.
“Have you decided whether you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt?”
“Whether we leave at 8:00 or 8:30, we’re going to get stuck in traffic.”
“You’re going to eat your vegetables, whether you like it or not.”
(Note: “Whether you like it or not” is a common phrase for expressing that someone doesn’t have a choice in the matter. It’s probably most common for parents to say to children.)
When to use them: These words express two alternatives. It can be confusing to decide between using “whether/or” or “either/or,” but here’s the main difference:
“Whether/or” is usually used when you’re trying to make a decision. “Either/or” is typically used to compare two nouns or options.
It’s tricky, but here are some examples of “either/or.”
“This summer, I want to visit either France or England.”
“Either we can eat Chinese food, or I’ll make food at home.”
“I want to attend either Harvard or Yale.”
When to use them: “Neither/nor” is very similar to “either/or.” The difference is that you use “neither/nor” in a negative statement.
“Neither Cindy nor her husband will attend the parent-teacher conference tomorrow.”
To expand, you would use “either/or” to say “Either Cindy or her husband will attend the parent-teacher conference tomorrow.” In the first example, the parents are not attending, and in the second example, at least one of them will attend.
“Pat likes neither big cities nor small towns. She prefers small cities, like Greenville.”
“Neither my brother nor my sister is a good singer.”
When to use them: Use this pair to talk about two related things.
“I’m studying both theater and communications at college.”
“Let’s order both mozzarella sticks and cheese dip.”
“My daughter takes both ballet classes and karate classes. She likes to be active!”
26. Not only/but also
When to use them: “Not only/but also” is basically a way of saying, “But wait… there’s more!” It’s a way to convey more information, often information that is unexpected or impressive.
“I want to be not only a wife and mother, but also a doctor.”
“My son not only plays basketball and football, but also takes piano lessons.”
“My dog not only knows how to sit, but also how to shake and lie down.”
When to use them: The words “if” and “then” separate two clauses. Use the pair to talk about something that will happen as a result of something else happening.
“If Bob graduates from college, then he can apply for the job opening at Google.”
“If I order a medium pizza instead of a small, then I’ll have leftovers to eat tomorrow.”
“Joe is allergic to peanut butter. If he accidentally eats some, then his tongue will swell up.”
Now you know the different types of conjunctions and how to use them.
You can not only recognize an English conjunction in a sentence, but also create your own sentences with them.
After you memorize and practice your conjunctions, you’ll be able to impress all your English speaking friends.
What are you waiting for?
Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer based in Nashville. You can find her work at outlets such as Business Insider, Roads & Kingdoms and The Write Life. Follow her on Twitter @lgtarpley.
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