Conjunctions

Conjunctions are used to express a connection between words. The most familiar conjunctions are and, but, and or:

Paul and David
cold and wet
tired but happy
slowly but surely
tea or coffee
hot or cold

They can also connect longer units:

Paul plays football and David plays chess.
I play tennis but I don’t play well.
We can eat now or we can wait till later.

There are two types of conjunctions. COORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS (or simply COORDINATORS) connect elements of ‘equal’ syntactic status:

Paul and David
I play tennis but I don’t play well
meat or fish

Items which are connected by a coordinator are known as CONJOINS. So in I play tennis but I don’t play well, the conjoins are [I play tennis] and [ I don’t play well].

On the other hand, SUBORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS (or SUBORDINATORS) connect elements of ‘unequal’ syntactic status:

I left early because I had an interview the next day.
We visited Madame Tussaud’s while we were in London.
I’ll be home at nine if I can get a taxi.

Other subordinating conjunctions include although, because, before, since, till, unless, whereas, whether.

Coordination and subordination are quite distinct concepts in grammar. Notice, for example, that coordinators must appear between the conjoins:

[Paul plays football] and [David plays chess]

 ~*And [David plays chess] [Paul plays football]

However, we can reverse the order of the conjoins, provided we keep the coordinator between them:

[David plays chess] and [Paul plays football]

In contrast with this, subordinators do not have to occur between the items they connect::

I left early because I had an interview the next day

~Because I had an interview the next day, I left early

But if we reverse the order of the items, we either change the meaning completely:

I left early because I had an interview the next day

~I had an interview the next day because I left early

or we produce a very dubious sentence:

I’ll be home at nine if I can get a taxi

~?I can get a taxi if I’ll be home at nine

This shows that items linked by a subordinator have a very specific relationship to each other — it is a relationship of syntactic dependency. There is no syntactic dependency in the relationship between conjoins. We will further explore this topic when we look at the grammar of clauses.

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