Conjunctions are the mediators of the grammar world. They bring words and phrases together and say, “Hey, you guys go together like peas AND carrots.”
Or, they agree to disagree: “You’re cool, BUT we have really different opinions.”
Or they sometimes get feisty and issue ultimatums: “We are going to have to break up UNLESS you come up with a really amazing promposal.”
You get the idea. Conjunctions bring words and phrases together to the table to talk, and we all find out how they relate to one another.
The ACT is all about conjunctions. It will test you not only to make sure you know how to use conjunctions correctly grammatically but also that you know how to pick which one to use to convey the intentions of a sentence or sentence(s).
There are two major categories of conjunctions you need to be familiar with: coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions.
Coordinating conjunctions are the FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. They are the ones used to create compound sentences when combined with a comma, but they can also just connect any words or phrases and show how they relate. (“I like pizza and ice cream.” “I like pizza, but I don’t like ice cream.”)
Subordinating conjunctions provide a transition between ideas and subordinate a clause to a main clause. There are many subordinating conjunctions. Here are a few common ones:
after, although, because, if, than, that, when, where, while, before, as soon as, since, though, unless, until, once
For example, “I plan to launch my career as a poet once I finish this novel I am writing because my English teacher told me I could do it for extra credit.”
In this example above, the main clause is, “I plan to launch my career as a poet.” The subordinating conjunction “once” gives us more information on when the speaker plans to launch her poetic career and the second subordinating conjunction “because” gives more information on why the writer is writing a novel first. These subordinating conjunctions are subordinating the phrases to the main clause and clearly showing how they build on the main clause.
The Logic of Conjunctions
Often the ACT will check to make sure you understand the underlying message a sentence is trying to convey and that you can pick the correct conjunction to do this.
Take a look at this example:
The first few months have been relatively dry because/although weather forecasters predicted a rainy year.
Should it be “because” or “although”?
“Because” doesn’t quite make sense because if forecasters predicted a rainy year we wouldn’t expect the first few months to be relatively dry. And they definitely aren’t dry because forecasters said they would be rainy.
“Although” correctly sets up the contradiction between the two parts. And we’ve nailed what the sentence is trying to convey: even though forecasters said it would be rainy, it’s actually been dry so far. Of course, it gets a little more complicated on the ACT, but the important thing when it comes to conjunctions is that you are on the lookout not only for grammar but also for sense.