Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

1.16. Using Conjunctions:

ryanrori January 24, 2021

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A conjunction is a joiner, a word that connects (conjoins) parts of a sentence.  The simple, little conjunctions are called coordinating conjunctions. Remember the acronym FANBOYS: For-And-Nor-But-Or-Yet-So. Be careful of the words then and now; neither is a coordinating conjunction, so what we say about coordinating conjunctions’ roles in a sentence and punctuation does not apply to those two words.)

When a coordinating conjunction connects two independent clauses it is often (but not always) accompanied by a comma:

John wants to study chemistry, but he has had trouble meeting the academic requirements.

When the two independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction are nicely balanced or brief, many writers will omit the comma:

John has a great pass but he isn’t quick on his feet.

The comma is always correct when used to separate two independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction. A comma is also correct when and is used to attach the last item of a serial list, although many writers (especially in newspapers) will omit that final comma:

Sam spent his holiday studying basic math, writing, and reading comprehension.

When a coordinating conjunction is used to connect all the elements in a series, a comma is not used:

English and Chinese and Spanish are the most widely spoken languages in the world.

A comma is also used with but when expressing a contrast:  

This is a useful rule, but difficult to remember.

In most of their other roles as joiners (other than joining independent clauses, that is), coordinating conjunctions can join two sentence elements without the help of a comma.

Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu are among the best-known South Africans. 

Among the coordinating conjunctions, the most common, of course, are and, but, and or. It might be helpful to explore the uses of these three little words. The examples below by no means exhaust the possible meanings of these conjunctions.


  • To suggest that one idea follows another: “Tas sent in her applications and waited by the phone for a response.” 
  • To suggest that one idea is the result of another: “Willie heard the weather report and promptly brought in the washing.” 
  • To suggest that one idea is in contrast to another (frequently replaced by but in this usage): “Juanita is brilliant and Shalimar has a pleasant personality. 
  • To suggest an element of surprise (sometimes replaced by yet in this usage): “Johannesburg is a rich city and suffers from many symptoms of urban decay.” 
  • To suggest that one clause is dependent upon another, conditionally (usually the first clause is an imperative): “Use your credit cards frequently and you’ll soon find yourself deep in debt.” 
  • To suggest a kind of “comment” on the first clause: “Charlie became addicted to gambling — and that surprised no one who knew him.”


  • To suggest a contrast that is unexpected in light of the first clause: “Joey lost a fortune in the stock market, but he still seems able to live quite comfortably.” 
  • To suggest in an affirmative sense what the first part of the sentence implied in a negative way (sometimes replaced by on the contrary): “The club never invested foolishly, but used the services of a sage investment counsellor.” 
  • To connect two ideas with the meaning of “with the exception of” (and then the second word takes over as subject): “Everybody but Goldenbreath is trying out for the team.”


  • To suggest that only one possibility, excluding one or the other: “You can study hard for this exam or you can fail.” 
  • To suggest the inclusive combination of alternatives: “We can cook chicken on the grill tonight, or we can just eat leftovers. 
  • To suggest a refinement of the first clause: “Smith College is the top college in the country, or so it seems to most Smith College students.” 
  • To suggest a restatement or “correction” of the first part of the sentence: “There are no snakes in this valley, or so our guide tells us.” 
  • To suggest a negative condition: “The gang’s motto is the rather grim “Live free or die.”