Coordinating Conjunctions  

What is a coordinating conjunction?

Coordinating conjunctions are used to join two or more words, phrases, or independent clauses. The two elements being joined must be grammatically equal or similar in both importance and structure. There are seven coordinating conjunctions in English, which can be remembered using the acronym FANBOYS:
  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So
Some coordinating conjunctions are more flexible than others. For example: and, but, or, and yet can join words, phrases, or independent clauses; for, nor, and so are more limited, as we’ll see.
Let’s look at each coordinating conjunction separately.

For

For is used to give a reason for something. It can normally only join two independent clauses, introducing the second clause as the reason for the first one.
We can use for whenever we mean because, but it’s considered quite formal, literary, and even antiquated. For example:
  • “I believe you, for you have never lied to me before.”
  • “He didn’t come to the party, for he felt sick.”
  • “I wish you had been there, for we had a wonderful time.”

And

And is used to add one element to another. It can join words, phrases, and entire independent clauses. For example:
  • James and Jack are coming to the party.”
  • “He ran, swam, and played with the other children.”
  • “Her beautiful long hair and dark brown eyes caught their attention.”
  • The family moved into the new house, and the neighbors welcomed them warmly.”

Nor

Nor is one of the most limited coordinating conjunctions. It’s used to present an additional negative idea when a negative idea has already been stated. For example:
  • “He doesn’t like football, nor does he enjoy hockey.”
  • “I’ve never seen that movie, nor do I want to see it.”
  • She hasn’t been to Paris, nor has she travelled to Rome.”
Note that when nor is used to join two independent clauses, as in the examples above, negative inversion must be used in the second clause.
There is disagreement over whether nor should be used to join two elements that are not independent clauses. Therefore, the examples below would be considered correct according to some style guides and incorrect according to others:
  • “I haven’t seen nor heard from Mike in days.”
  • “He can’t play football nor basketball.”
  • “She said she wasn’t going to sing nor dance at the party.”
For those who consider the above sentences to be incorrect, or would be the preferred coordinating conjunction, as in:
  • “I haven’t seen or heard from Mike in days.”
  • “He can’t play football or basketball.”
  • “She said she wasn’t going to sing or dance at the party.”

But

But is used to present a contrast with previous information. It can be used to join an independent clause to a phrase or another independent clause. For example:
  • “I want to go shopping but I can’t.”
  • “He was upset but didn’t cry.”
  • “I would love to travel more, but I just don’t have the time.”

Or

Or is used to present alternative choices or options. For example:
  • “Would you like the chicken, the pork, or the beef?”
  • “Which sport do you think is more exciting, football or hockey?”
  • “We can go to the movies tonight, or we can just hang out at home.”

Yet

Yet, like but, is used to present contrast. However, there is a subtle implication when we use yet that the information is surprising in light of what we already know. For example:
  • “The movie was depressing yet uplifting at the same time.”
  • “It’s poured rain all day, yet they haven’t canceled the football game.”
  • “I’ve read hundreds of books since high school, yet The Catcher in the Rye is still my favorite.”

So

So is generally only used to join two independent clauses, where the second clause is a result of the first. For example:
  • “He was exhausted, so he went to bed early.”
  • “She was the most qualified candidate, so we gave her the job.”
  • “He’s been working harder lately, so his grades are improving.”

Punctuation

Between independent clauses

When a coordinating conjunction joins two independent clauses, a comma normally precedes it, as in:
  • “They moved into the new house, and the neighbors welcomed them warmly.”
  • “I’ve never seen that movie, nor do I want to see it.”
  • “We can go to the movie theater, or we can just hang out at home.”
Although it’s never incorrect to use a comma between two independent clauses, the comma is optional if the two clauses are very short and concise, and there is no possibility of confusion for the reader. For example:
  • “He plays sports, and he’s fit.”
or
  • “He plays sports and he’s fit.”

Between words or phrases

When coordinating conjunctions are used to join words or phrases that are not independent clauses, we don’t use a comma. For example:
  • “James and Jack are coming to the party.”
  • “Would you like the chicken or the beef?”
  • “The movie was depressing yet uplifting at the same time.”

Before the last item in a list

A coordinating conjunction, usually and, is often used before the last item in a list. When we use a comma before this coordinating conjunction it is called a serial comma or Oxford comma. There are strong opposing opinions over whether this comma should ever be used. Neither side is right or wrong; it’s simply a stylistic preference. Therefore, all of the following sentences could be considered correct:
  • “I like apples, bananas, pears, and figs.
  • “I like apples, bananas, pears and figs.
  • “She’s smart, beautiful, and witty.”
  • She’s smart, beautiful and witty.”
  • “We have always wanted to buy a boat, sell everything, and set sail.”
  • “We have always wanted to buy a boat, sell everything and set sail.”
It should be noted that certain varieties of English use the serial comma more than others. For example, most American English style guides recommend its use. On the other hand, the majority of British English style guides recommend against it, with the most important exception being the Oxford Style Manual (from which the “Oxford comma” received its name).

Beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction

Many of us have been taught at some point that we should never begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. However, most grammarians and nearly all style guides state that this is not a grammatical rule, but a personal preference.
Writers often begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction to emphasize an afterthought, lengthen a pause, or signify a shift in thinking. Commas are not used after coordinating conjunctions when they start sentences. For example:
  • “She’s smart and beautiful. And she’s witty, too.”
  • “We’ve never won anything before. So I doubt we’ll win this time.”
  • “I think we should get Indian food. But maybe I want Italian instead.”
When we do start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, we must take extra care that the sentence is not a fragment, but contains a subject, verb, and complete thought.
Quiz

1. Coordinating conjunctions are used to join ________.






2. Which of the following words is not a coordinating conjunction?





3. Complete the following sentence with the correct coordinating conjunction:
“I had studied a lot, ________ I did really well on the test.”





4. Which of the following sentences is written correctly?






5. Which of the following sentences is written correctly?





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