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Conjunctions are joining words

Conjunctions are one of the 8 parts of speech. Conjunctions are words used to connect words, phrases and clauses. Remember, a clause contains a subject and a verb; a phrase is any group of related words. See the page on conjunctions and clauses for the rules on using commas, semicolons, coordinating conjunctions, and conjunctive adverbs to join clauses.

Conjunction types

Common conjunctions are “and,” “but,” “or,” nor,” “for,” etc. These are called coordinating conjunctions and they join phrases of equal grammatical value. I'll explain the idea of equal grammatical value when we get to subordinating conjunctions.

Do you always need a comma before and?

A comma before and is only needed when and joins two clauses, not when and joins phrases. Look at the graphic above. Notice that a comma is used to join clauses but not phrases.

Another place where we use a comma with and is in a list. A list contains a number of items joined by commas, with the word and before the last item. Whether or not you use the comma before and is a matter of style. Casual styles often leave this comma out. Many academic styles require it. If there is any possibility of confusion, use a comma before the final and in a series.

Here are some examples:

I went to the store and I bought some Lady Gaga CDs.

I went to the gas station, but I didn’t buy gas.

Subordinating conjunctions such as “after,” “as,” “because,” “if,” etc join clauses of different grammatical value. Different grammatical value means that one thing happened after the other, or one thing depends on the other, or one thing is the reason for the other.

Here are some examples:

I went to the bank after I went to the store.

I went to the bank because I needed to deposit my pay.

So you should see that “grammatical value” means in the first case, each side of the conjunction could stand as an independent sentence. But for the subordinating conjunctions, there is a logical relationship between the two phrases that makes it important to link the two.

Correlative conjunctions always occur in pairs. These include either/or; not only/but also; and whether/or. Some of these conjunctions can work alone (which means they are not correlative) but they have a slightly different function working in pairs.

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