50 Subordinating Conjunctions and Why They Matter
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.
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).
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.
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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