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Making Strong Writers: Mastering Coordinating and Subordinating Conjunctions: A Guide for Clearer Writing

Conjunctions are the unsung heroes of the English language, working quietly in the background to link words, phrases, and clauses. Among these linguistic heroes are coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, each playing a crucial role in crafting coherent and effective sentences. However, despite their importance, many students grapple with understanding and using these conjunctions effectively. In this guide, we'll delve into the world of coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, exploring their functions, providing examples, and addressing common struggles students face.

Understanding Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions are the glue that holds together elements of equal grammatical importance within a sentence. They can link words, phrases, or independent clauses. There are seven coordinating conjunctions, often remembered by the acronym FANBOYS:

  • For: Used to indicate a reason or purpose.

    • She packed her bags, for she was leaving town.

  • And: Used to join similar elements or add information.

    • He likes to hike and swim in the lake.

  • Nor: Used to introduce a negative clause continuing a negative thought.

    • She neither called nor texted me back.

  • But: Used to introduce a contrast or exception.

    • He was tired, but he couldn't sleep.

  • Or: Used to present alternatives.

    • You can have tea or coffee.

  • Yet: Used to introduce a contrast with what has already been said.

    • She was sick, yet she managed to finish her project.

  • So: Used to indicate a consequence or result.

    • The sun was shining, so we went for a picnic.

Exploring Subordinating Conjunctions

Unlike coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions connect independent clauses to dependent clauses, indicating the relationship between them. These conjunctions often show time, place, cause, or condition. Here are some common subordinating conjunctions:

  • Although: Despite the fact that.

    • Although it was raining, we went for a walk.

  • Because: For the reason that.

    • She didn't go to school because she was sick.

  • If: In the event that.

    • If you study hard, you'll pass the exam.

  • Since: Because; from the time when.

    • Since you're already here, could you help me?

  • While: At the same time as.

    • She read a book while waiting for the train.

  • After: Following in time; later than.

    • We went for ice cream after dinner.

  • Before: Prior to the time when.

    • He brushed his teeth before going to bed.

Common Struggles with Conjunctions

Despite their importance, many students struggle with conjunctions for various reasons:

  • Choosing the Right Conjunction: Understanding when to use coordinating versus subordinating conjunctions can be challenging. Practice and exposure to different examples are crucial.

    • Subordinating Conjunctions: Use subordinating conjunctions when you want to introduce a clause that is dependent on another clause for its meaning or when you want to create complex sentences with varying levels of importance or hierarchy.

    • Coordinating Conjunctions: Use coordinating conjunctions to join two or more independent clauses or to connect words, phrases, or clauses of equal importance within a sentence.

  • Sentence Structure: Students often find it difficult to maintain sentence structure while using conjunctions, leading to run-on sentences or comma splices. Reinforcing the basics of sentence structure can help.

    • Coordinating Conjunctions:

      • When two independent clauses are joined by a coordinating conjunction, a comma is typically placed before the conjunction. Example:

        • She loves to read novels, and she enjoys writing poetry.

      • When joining one independent clause and one dependent clause, no comma is needed. Example:

        • He woke up early and went for a run.

    • Subordinating Conjunctions:

      • When the subordinate (dependent) clause follows the independent clause, no comma is used before the subordinating conjunction. Example:

        • She went to bed early because she had an early meeting the next day.

      • When the subordinate clause precedes the independent clause, a comma is typically used after the subordinate clause to separate it from the independent clause. Example:

        • After she finished her homework, she went out to play.

  • Subtle Differences: Sometimes, the subtle differences in meaning between similar conjunctions can be confusing. Encourage students to pay attention to context and meaning.

  • Overuse: Some students tend to overuse conjunctions, resulting in verbose or convoluted sentences. Teaching the importance of brevity and clarity can help mitigate this issue.

Mastering coordinating and subordinating conjunctions takes time and practice, but doing so can significantly enhance one's writing skills. By understanding their functions, practicing with examples, and addressing common struggles, students can improve their ability to craft clear and cohesive sentences.


 Conjunctions are fundamental components of language that serve the crucial purpose of joining words, phrases, and clauses together, thereby creating cohesive and meaningful sentences. Understanding why we use conjunctions and how they facilitate the connection between various elements in a sentence is essential for effective communication. Here's a deeper exploration:

Why Do We Use Conjunctions?

  • Coherence and Flow: Conjunctions provide the necessary links between different parts of a sentence, ensuring that ideas are presented in a logical and coherent manner. Without conjunctions, sentences may appear disjointed or fragmented.

  • Complexity and Variety: Conjunctions allow us to construct more complex and nuanced sentences by combining multiple ideas, clauses, or phrases. They enable writers to convey relationships such as cause and effect, contrast, concession, and condition, enriching the depth and sophistication of their writing.

  • Expressing Relationships: Conjunctions help clarify the relationships between different elements within a sentence. Whether it's showing addition, contrast, time sequence, or condition, conjunctions provide the necessary signals to guide the reader through the intended meaning.

  • Conciseness and Efficiency: In some cases, conjunctions can help condense information, allowing writers to express multiple thoughts or actions in a single sentence. This contributes to clarity and efficiency in communication.

How Do We Join Sentences with Conjunctions?

  • Coordinating Conjunctions: Coordinating conjunctions join elements of equal grammatical rank, such as words, phrases, or independent clauses. They typically connect similar elements or ideas within a sentence. For example:

    • She loves to read novels, and she enjoys writing poetry.

  • Subordinating Conjunctions: Subordinating conjunctions link independent clauses with dependent clauses, indicating the relationship between them. They introduce subordinate (dependent) clauses, which cannot stand alone as complete sentences. For example:

    • After the storm passed, we went outside to assess the damage.

  • Compound Sentences: Conjunctions are often used to create compound sentences, which consist of two or more independent clauses joined by coordinating conjunctions. This allows writers to present related ideas in a balanced and connected manner. For example:

    • He wanted to go for a run, but it started raining heavily.

  • Complex Sentences: Subordinating conjunctions are integral to forming complex sentences, where one clause (the independent clause) is central, and the other (the dependent clause) is subordinate and reliant on the main clause for meaning. This adds depth and detail to the writing. For example:

    • Although she was tired, she stayed up late to finish her project.

By mastering the art of using conjunctions to join sentences, writers can enhance the clarity, coherence, and effectiveness of their communication. Whether creating compound sentences for emphasis or crafting complex sentences for depth, understanding the role and function of conjunctions is essential for proficient writing.


Free lesson and worksheet packet from Edmentum Exact Path.

Edmentum worksheet packet on conjunctions
Download PDF • 705KB


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