50 Subordinating Conjunctions and Why They Matter

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I had a lively discussion/debate on Facebook recently about starting a sentence with because (If  that particular topic interests you, you can read all about it here). Commenters several times mentioned that because is a conjunction and therefore should serve to connect ideas within the sentence.

They were right to a degree, but they seemed to be confusing two different types of conjunctions: coordinating and subordinating. When we think of conjunctions (If we ever think of conjunctions), we usually think and, but and or. Or maybe even FANBOYS, the mnemonic device for the coordinating conjunctions (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So).

But there is a larger and equally important group of conjunctions that function somewhat differently in sentences. They are the subordinating conjunctions. Here’s a list of 50 of  the most common ones¹.

Grammar: Subordinatinc Conjunctions list

The difference between conjunctions in this list and FANBOYS is expressed in the words coordinating and subordinating. To coordinate is to bring things into balance or equality. To subordinate is to make less important. When we use coordinating conjunctions to combine independent clauses in a sentence, each clause is equal in importance:

Helena vacuumed the hedgehog, and Taylor polished the artichoke.

Neither Helena’s nor Taylor’s activity is emphasized in this sentence. If we use a subordinating conjunction, however, it’s different:

Helena vacuumed the hedgehog after Taylor polished the artichoke.

The conjunction after provides some information about when these activities have happened in relation to each other. But this conjunction does something else — something so subtle you might not notice. It makes Taylor’s polishing less important to the sentence. Or maybe it would be clearer to say it makes Helena’s activity the focus of the sentence.

In the first example, the coordinating conjunction and balances the two clauses. Both Helena vacuumed the hedgehog and Taylor polished the artichoke are equal independent clauses. In the second sentence, however, the subordinating conjunction becomes part of the second clause, creating a dependent (or subordinate) clause. We have an independent clause — Helena vacuumed the hedgehog — followed by a dependent clause — after Taylor polished the artichoke. This second clause now explains the first; it tells when Helena did her polishing. With the addition of after, it has become an adverb clause (a clause that functions just like an adverb).

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Notice that after Taylor polished the artichoke could not stand alone as a complete sentence. It would be fragment. That’s the nature of dependent clauses. Only independent clauses can stand alone.

Unlike coordinating conjunctions, which connect independent clauses in a balanced, coordinated way, subordinating conjunctions attach themselves to a clause and subordinate it to the rest of the sentence.

This means that whenever you use one of the conjunctions on this list, you must create a complex sentence (a sentence with at least one independent and one dependent clause). If you don’t include an independent clause with the dependent one you create, you’ll end up with a fragment.

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¹Notice that some of these are compounds. You might also notice that some of these words can function as prepositions (after, before) and some can serve as pronouns (that, who, which).

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Please leave your comments below!

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. NimrodTheGoat
    NimrodTheGoat11-07-2016

    Even though I detest ham, I ate some last night.
    (SC) (Sub) (Vb) (Comma) (Sub) (Vb)

    If the subordinating conjunction is in the middle of the two connected sentences then there is no comma.

    I ate ham last night even though I detest it.
    (Sub) (Vb) (SC) (Sub)(Vb)

    That is how I learned my sentence structures and there are more of them, but I just wanted to know if I am still correct.

  2. Jordan
    Jordan10-31-2016

    Can you give an example where the word “which” is a subordinate conjunction? I’m not sure that one works. Thanks!

  3. sindhu
    sindhu10-06-2016

    Soo nice
    Its very much easy to complete my assignment nd easy to learn nd understand
    I’m a big fan fo CONJUNCTION
    I love conjunction

  4. Katerina
    Katerina09-22-2016

    Is just (by itself) a subordinating conjunction.

  5. Estif
    Estif08-06-2016

    I want be learn english grammer

  6. jane capellaro
    jane capellaro03-26-2016

    I a trying to find out why ” I am excited to” is wrong, it always sounds wrong to me but I can’t find a rule that covers this. Am I right or is it okay to use that phrase. Everyone does now but I don’t.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko03-26-2016

      Unless there is some contextI can’t think of, there is nothing grammatically wrong with that phrase. You should avoid it if it is not your preference, but there’s nothing incorrect about it.

  7. HannahOcier
    HannahOcier02-04-2016

    Thanks a lot! 🙂 Really did a big help on my homework.

  8. reem12
    reem1208-29-2015

    thanks a lot that really helped me. i actually have an English language assignment to collect from 25-50 subordinating conjunctions. i am 12 in eighth grade and that is my first time taking this topic.

  9. Grace
    Grace08-14-2015

    Just wanted to give you kudos for a perfectly clear explanation of the difference between subordinating and coordinating conjunctions. Well done! Thanks again!

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko08-14-2015

      My pleasure, Grace.

      • Ruth
        Ruth02-29-2016

        Thanks Brian,
        the way you have explained the subject was easy for me to understant.
        I am a spanish person trying to write better in English, which is challenging from me since I am not a younger peson and have spanish language well semente on my brain.

        Do you anything that tel me about puntuation (commas, semicolon, run on sentence, and so on..), I am having trouble withit

  10. YSABELA DEJESUS
    YSABELA DEJESUS02-25-2015

    I WAS SEARCHING FOR LIST OF SUBORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS, I WAS ABOUT TO ASK EVELYN IF YOU’RE AN ENGLISH TEACHER CAN YOU GIVE ME A LIST OF SUBORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS?

  11. EvelynU
    EvelynU12-13-2014

    Some of the words and phrases on that list don’t sound like they would work to create gramatically-correct sentences to me. Can you give me a sentence using “if when” or “even” (by itself, as distinct from “even though”)? How about “where if”? “If then” only works if you use then in two different clauses, not together: If she comes, then we can go.

    Also, words like who, whoever, and why can connect clauses, but a sentence like: ” I know who did it” Or “I know why he did it” is structurally quite different than a sentence with an independent clause and a subordinate clause (She did it because I told her to.) You can’t put “who did it first” and “who did it” functions as the direct object of I know…it’s a noun clause, not an adverb clause. So to me (as an ESL teacher in the US) this list is a mess.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko12-16-2014

      Hi Evelyn. Thanks for taking the time to offer your critique. I wrote this article so long ago, I can’t even remember where I got this list from. I’m pretty sure I didn’t create it myself other than pulling from various lists. Still, that’s no excuse. I should have verified that all the words can indeed work as subordinating conjunctions.

      Taking up your challenge, I was unable to find such a use for “who” and “whoever,” so I agree with you there. They only work as pronouns as far as I can tell.

      The others you point out, however, can be used as subordinating conjunctions. They aren’t particularly common, I agree, and there are options in most cases that work more naturally, but for now I’m keeping them on the list:

      But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Peter 2:20)

      Even Stanley agreed the letter was a forgery.

      I got fired, where if Tom had done it, he’d have been promoted.

      If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:23)

      I’m rethinking “even.” You may be right on that one. Thanks for giving me a challenge!

      Why Ed came to the party, I’ll never know.

  12. jk
    jk12-08-2014

    less

  13. Rodeo
    Rodeo02-02-2014

    How about: “After Taylor polished the artichoke, Helena vacuumed the hedgehog…” ???

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko02-02-2014

      How about it? I ‘m not sure I understand the question.

    • TR
      TR05-12-2014

      Using the adverbial subordinate clause before the independent clause is acceptable; correct?

      In fact, does it not generate a suspensive sentence – keeping the main point withheld from the reader until the end.

  14. Beth Greenapple
    Beth Greenapple01-22-2014

    I learned grammar listening to my parents, reading great (and well edited) literature, and through a few fairly basic lessons in schoo,l before grammar curriculum went out the window altogether. As a result, I often find that I know that a sentence should be a constructed a certain way, even when I can’t explain why. Thank you for this memorable and illuminating post about conjunctions (for those of us who think about conjunctions, that is!).

  15. Jordy
    Jordy01-21-2014

    In your footnote you point out that some of these conjunctions can serve as prepositions or pronouns, but can’t some serve as adverbs as well?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko01-21-2014

      Yes, a couple of them might be used as adverbs — “now,” for example. Good catch.

  16. Tamara
    Tamara01-20-2014

    The humor makes the example memorable. I enjoyed the post and learned something at the same time.

  17. Will
    Will07-03-2013

    The only ridiculous part of the whole post is the sentences. I mean, “Helena vacuumed the hedgehog”? “Tom polished the artichoke”?

    • Lori
      Lori07-03-2013

      I enjoyed the humorous sentence examples! Makes learning fun!

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko07-03-2013

      Would you prefer more ridiculousness or less, Will?

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