Whether you take note of them or not, you make use of various parts of speech ever day –you may not consciously think about the grammar that you are using, but it is there. But what happens if you would like to know more about grammar – or perhaps you are planning to teach English to foreigners and have to know? Suddenly you may not feel so at home with your home language as what you thought – but no need to worry, there is no need to be a walking textbook. This simple guide will give you a reminder of the deeper workings of the language that you use every day. Whether you need to know about conjunctions yourself or need to explain them to someone else, this simple guide is all you need.

What is a conjunction?

Conjunctions are words that join groups of words (clauses) to form sentences. They not only join these groups of words, they show the relationship between the groups as well.

E.g. I went to the shop while she got ready for the party. ("I went to the shop" and "She got ready for the party" are two separate clauses that are joined to make one sentence by using the conjunction "while").

The three types of conjunctions

1. Co-ordinating conjunctions

Co-ordinating conjunctions join two independent clauses (or even single words) of the same group or class (noun +noun, adjective+ adjective, phrase+ phrase, etc.) The clauses separated by co-ordinating conjunctions can stand on their own without needing further explanation.

E.g. He is tall and handsome; I'm going to the market because I need to buy new clothes; He drinks but he does not smoke.

2. Subordinating conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions join dependent and independent clauses. One of the clauses is dependent on the other for it to make sense, to give it a context and to show direct relations between clauses (such as one clause being the cause, and the other the effect).

E.g. I'll let you know when I get there; I bought the movie tickets while he was buying the popcorn; I would show you the way but I don't know how to get there.

3. Correlative conjunctions

A correlative conjunction is a conjunction that joins with another word to show an equal relationship between two elements in a sentence. These conjunctions always come in pairs (neither…nor; either…or; both…and; not only…but also).

E.g. He is neither an athlete nor an academic; The teacher is both witty and intelligent; They did not only host the competition but also won it.

A point or two

There are always experience specific elements to each part of speech in the English language. In terms of conjunctions, you may want to remember that subordinating conjunctions and correlative conjunctions do not have to be in the middle of a sentence, but can start one too (E.g. If you ask for help, I will be more than ready). If this is the case, a comma separates the two clauses. This same sentence is an example of how words are sometimes modified or left out when conjunctions are used. Instead of keeping the two clauses in tact (If you ask for help, I will be more than ready to help you), "to help you" can be left out of the sentence as the subordinating conjunction "if" provides the context that explains the second clause. There are many examples of this, and experience with the language is the best way to become accustomed to them.

Keep it simple

One of the easiest ways to remember the co-ordinating conjunctions is to think of the word FANBOYS. Each letter stands for one of the co-ordinating conjunctions (but some can be used as subordinating or part of correlative conjunctions as well).