Saturday, January 5, 2008

Back to Basics: Conjunctions

Three types of conjunctions link words, phrases, and clauses into coherent sentences. You don't need to know the “technical” terms, but understanding how they work will help you use them more effectively. You can also eliminate run-on sentences where you've used them for evil rather than good.

Co-ordinating Conjunctions

The FANBOYS coordinate words and sentence parts to explain to your readers how they interact or relate to each other. I know I've written it several times, but for those who don't know “who” the FANBOYS are, I'll specify: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. “Bob and I went to the movie theater but nothing appealed to us.” Here “and” links Bob and me together while “but” tells you how the independent clause that follows relates to the first half of the sentence.

Subordinating Conjunctions

While you can coordinate just about anything, you can only subordinate dependent clauses. It comes to me that I should write a post about the difference between clauses and phrases. In short, when you have a few words that include a related noun and verb but don't constitute a full sentence, you have a dependent clause.

You'll need an independent clause to create a full sentence, and a subordinating conjunction to tell your audience how the to two relate. Such words as if, after, because, when, and while show readers how the dependent clause fits into the action of a sentence. “Until you find your shoes, Shelly will loan you her slippers.” “Until” explains for how long Shelly is willing to loan you those slippers.

Correlative Conjunctions

Should you find a pair of conjunctions in your sentence, you are likely to have used correlative conjunctions. They only appear in twos because their job is to coordinate two equivalent items. When you write, “I bought not only the complete series but the soundtrack as well,” you are using “not only” and “ well” to explain to your readers how these elements relate to each other. Would you like more examples? “Either you understand correlative conjuctions or you don't.” “I danced to both the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Squirrel Nut Zippers.”

“Whether I post this or delete it, I better understand conjunctions.” In this example, “whether” acts as both a correlative and a subordinating conjunction. As I wrote, the technical terms do not matter. Knowing that the first part of the sentence is dependent, needs a conjunction to link it, and requires a second element to be complete matters more than being able to call those pieces by their names.