What Is a Coordinating Conjunction? Basics and Writing Tips

What Is a Coordinating Conjunction? Basics and Writing Tips

Do you have two equally important thoughts or ideas you need to express? Use a coordinating conjunction, which glues several elements of a sentence together to form a compound sentence or contrast differing ideas. In other words, these types of conjunctions play an important role in joining or coordinating phrases and thoughts.

This article walks you through everything you need to know about coordinating conjunctions and provides examples so you can better understand the concept.

What are coordinating conjunctions?

A coordinating conjunction joins two or more independent clauses, words, verbs, adjectives, and nouns when each item needs equal emphasis. In other words, these are words that help join ideas. An example would be, “My cat likes being pet on her head but not her belly.”

The English language has seven coordinating conjunctions:

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So

Fortunately, you can use a common mnemonic device to help you remember: the acronym FANBOYS.

Below, we explore what each conjunction signifies and the different instances when you might need to use this important part of speech to create more complex sentences.

For

With the word “for,” you indicate that the second part of the sentence happened because of the first part. This particular conjunction occurs most often when you have two independent clauses.

For example:

“I went to the store, for I needed to buy pie ingredients.”

Be careful because “for” can also be used as a preposition. In these situations, “for” will have an object and doesn’t connect two things, such as, “I went to the store for pie ingredients.”

And

“And” is one of the most common English words and definitely one of the most common coordinating conjunctions. It’s used to join together two ideas that occur equally.

For example:

“The little toddler loved to run and hop.”

Nor

You use “nor” to unite two negative ideas, such as two things someone doesn’t want to do. However, keep in mind that both ideas in the sentence need to be negative to use this word correctly.
For example:

“The rain fell hard and we couldn’t go to the beach, nor could we ride our bikes.”

But

“But” contrasts one idea against the other, although both ideas remain of equal importance. For example, you might use “but” to express the idea:

“She was trying to study, but he distracted her with his music.”

As with “for,” “but” can also be used as a preposition. A trick for determining if “but” is a preposition in a particular sentence is to try replacing it with the word “except.” If the sentence makes sense, “but” is a preposition. You can also look for the object of the preposition. For example:

“She had finished all the invitations but one.”

We can see the object of the preposition is “one.” We can also replace the word “but” with “except” and the sentence still makes sense, telling us it’s a preposition.

Or

“Or” helps provide a choice or an alternative expressed in the sentence. For example:

“You can have a brownie or cake for dessert.”

Yet

The word “yet” also helps demonstrate a contrast between the first idea expressed and the idea joined to it. This can perform a similar role to “but.” However, this construction leaves a slight grammatical opening for the contrasting idea to take place some time in the future.

For example:

“I wanted to adopt a cat, yet we didn’t have the room.”

In this sentence, the idea of getting a cat in the future when more room is available is left open.

So

“So” helps indicate that one idea happens as the result of another. For example:

“I studied hard for my exam, so I received a good grade.”

The word “so” can also have other grammatical uses. In particular, it can be used as an adverb, such as, “She ran so fast.”

This sentence shows that “so” doesn’t connect different ideas and instead modifies “fast”—she didn’t just run fast; she ran so fast.

Connecting two words

If you have two related words in a sentence that serve the same role in expressing a central thought, you can join them with a coordinating conjunction. For this technique to work, though, the two words joined together need to be the same part of speech, such as two adjectives, nouns, or verbs.

For example:

“The water was sparkling yet cool.”

“Yet” joins together the adjectives “sparkling” and “cool” to tell us more about the water.

“The puppies welcomed their owner with barks and kisses.”

“And” joins together the nouns “barks” and “kisses” to explain the behavior of the puppies.

Connecting two phrases

When you have two related phrases, you can also use a coordinating conjunction to join them together to create a complete thought. You can see this at work in the following examples:

“The team worked hard for the competition but still felt nervous.”

“The new student felt alone at the new school and joined clubs to make friends.”

Connecting two independent clauses

You can use a coordinating conjunction to bring together two related ideas expressed in two independent clauses. This can help connect ideas and add variety to your writing style.

For example:

“The cook finished preparing breakfast. The cook began to prepare the lunch.”

Joining the second clause to the first will give you:

“The cook finished preparing breakfast, and she began to prepare lunch.”

Similarly:

“The girl studied hard for her exam. The girl knew it was important to earn a good score.”

This can become:

“The girl studied hard for her exam, for she knew it was important to earn a good score.”

Connecting several items

A coordinating conjunction can also help you create a series connecting several items. Consider the following group of sentences.

“At the store, you can pick bananas. You can pick oranges. You can pick apples. You can pick mangoes.”

This is extremely dull to read. However, you can easily combine the objects of the verb “pick” by creating a series. When you create a series, you’ll need to separate each item in the series with a comma. You can then place the appropriate conjunction between the last and the second-to-last item in the list.

Note: Some writing rules dictate using a comma before this conjunction, referred to as an Oxford or serial comma, while others say you shouldn’t use such a comma. Refer to the style guidelines provided for any particular document you’re writing or reviewing.

Your new sentence should look like this:

“At the store, you can pick bananas, oranges, apples, or mangoes.”

As a second example, see how we can join together the following sentences:

“I love reading. I love writing. I love hiking. I love swimming.”

It reads far better when you say:

“I love reading, writing, hiking, and swimming.”

Note that you don’t need to use a comma if you have only two items in the series, like “I love reading and hiking.”

Using commas with coordinating conjunctions

You may need to use a comma when using a coordinating conjunction to join together two independent clauses. For example:

“I want to watch a movie. I need to do my school assignment.”

Each sentence can stand alone, which means that they’re independent clauses. If we want to join them together as a single sentence, we can use the coordinating conjunction “but” and a comma (although this can depend on the style guide used). Our sentence then becomes:

“I want to watch a movie, but I need to finish my school assignment.”

As a second example, consider the sentences:

“I’m optimizing my web content. I’m focusing my content around particular keywords.”

To join them with the coordinating conjunction “so,” we’ll write:

“I’m optimizing my web content, so I’m focusing my content around particular keywords.”

If you don’t use commas when joining independent clauses, you may accidentally construct a run-on sentence like:

“I’m optimizing my web content I’m focusing on my content around particular keywords.”

Coordinating conjunctions FAQs

You may have a few questions as you start to pay attention to the more intricate rules of grammar. Review these answers to common questions around coordinating conjunctions.

Can you start a sentence with coordinating conjunctions?

Generally speaking, yes, you can start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. However, this is not always a wise decision.

For example, you’ll create a sentence fragment, which is an incomplete thought. An example would be, “Because he did not finish the test.” A sentence that doesn’t have a strong relationship with the one preceding it can also disrupt the flow of your writing.

Writing that starts with coordinating conjunctions also tends to sound somewhat  informal. This may be less desirable in certain situations, such as when writing academic papers.

If your type of writing allows for more casual sentence construction, you can begin some sentences with coordinating conjunctions. However, be sure to read each sentence to watch for common mistakes.

Do conjunctive adverbs serve the same purpose as coordinating conjunctions?

Conjunctive adverbs serve a very similar purpose to coordinating conjunctions. This class of terms includes common words and phrases like “however” and “therefore.”

These adverbs have a slightly different role in our speech, though. They tend to show the progression of events or a transition from one idea to another. You’ll also notice that the sentence construction required by a conjunctive adverb changes slightly. English grammar rules say you need to place a semicolon before the conjunctive adverb and a comma after it.

Looking at a few more examples to see how the role between a conjunctive adverb and a coordinating conjunction differs can help.

“She finished practicing her piano, and she went outside to play.”

In this sentence, both ideas have equal weight and tell us about the girl’s afternoon.

Now, we’ll adjust the sentence slightly using a conjunctive adverb. Watch how the punctuation changes.

“She finished practicing her piano; therefore, she went outside to play.”

This slight shift tells us that the girl went outside to play because she practiced her piano. It tells us more about the sequence of events.

What is the difference between independent and dependent clauses?

To fully understand the grammar concepts surrounding coordinating conjunctions and the placement of commas in these types of sentences, you’ll want to understand the difference between independent and dependent clauses.

An independent clause has its own subject and predicate and can stand alone as a sentence. “She ate dinner” is an independent clause because there’s a subject (she) and a complete predicate (ate dinner). It expresses a complete thought and can stand alone as a sentence.

A dependent clause doesn’t express a complete thought. An example would be “Did the dishes.” This clause also has a subject and verb but can’t stand as a complete sentence. The phrase “Did the dishes” leaves us asking, “WHO did the dishes?”

Apply your writing skills

Understanding the parts of a sentence can help you better evaluate and edit your writing and improve the copy you produce. If you don’t have much experience with coordinating conjunctions, you might find putting together short sentences and doing some  conjunctions exercises helpful.

Do you think you have a firm grasp on coordinating conjunctions? Help clients improve the quality and complexity of their writing by applying for some of the best independent copywriting jobs on Upwork and putting your skills to work.

With a platform that makes it easy to find and apply for freelance jobs, coordinate with clients, and get paid, Upwork can help propel your copywriting career forward.

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