A conjunction can be defined simply as a linking word. A conjunction can link two words (e.g., “big and tall,”) or clauses (e.g., “I wanted to travel this summer, but I couldn’t get the time off work.”)
Coordinating Conjunction vs Subordinating Conjunction
Coordinating conjunctions connect two terms that hold equal weight within a sentence, whereas subordinating conjunctions are used when one part of a sentence is to be given more attention than another.
To show how coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions differ from one another, we will play around with two clauses — “She got home,” and “She went straight to bed.”
If both of these pieces of information are equally important to what we are writing, we want to use a coordinating conjunction, such as and, or but.
- “She got home and she went straight to bed.”
If only one of these clauses was the main purpose of writing this sentence, with the other clause simply giving additional information, we would want to use a subordinating clause, such as although, because, whether, before, or after.
To emphasize the fact that she went straight to bed, we would write:
- “After she got home, she went straight to bed.”
(Notice how a conjunction does not need to be placed between the two clauses to connect them.)
Correlative conjunctions are pairs of words, one of which is a coordinating conjunction and the other a word that sets up the coordinating conjunction. Examples of correlative conjunction pairs are either / or, neither / nor, and both / and.
- “Either eat what’s on your plate, or go to bed hungry.”
Conjunction vs Conjunctive Adverb
It is important to note that conjunctions are not normally used to begin sentences.1
For example, you would probably not want to write:
- “They went out for dinner. And then they went to the movies.”
Since and is a conjunction, you would want to write:
- “They went out for dinner, and then they went to the movies.”
If you were determined to put these two clauses into separate sentences, you would want to use a conjunctive adverb. Conjunctive adverbs are used to connect two sentences, and they are able to begin new sentences. Using the conjunctive adverb, afterwards, we could write:
- “They went out for dinner. Afterwards, they went to the movies.”
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1If a piece of writing is neither academic nor formal, starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is perfectly acceptable.