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What Is a Coordinating Conjunction?

What is a coordinating conjunction? Before we get into what a coordinating conjunction is, allow me to entertain you for a moment, using an anecdote from my own experience.

As a wide-eyed freshman in college, like everyone else, I had to take an English Composition course. Now, I happen to LOVE writing. So I was not walking into the first class with the sense of dread that most of my classmates seemed to be feeling.

However, my contentment quickly evaporated. Our instructor was an English graduate student who believed that every person who could not write a proper sentence should be drawn and quartered—or at least beheaded. I could feel the tension in the room rise as she proclaimed that we were all surely idiots, but she’d give us a shot at proving her wrong with our first assignment.

After she’d graded that first assignment, the fun began. She started class by gleefully announcing that she had been correct. We were all idiots. She walked down the aisles of the classroom passing out the graded papers and loudly announcing the grades of each poor student as she handed it to them.

“C! D! C minus! F!”

I did somehow manage to get an A on that first assignment. The only A in the class. In fact, the only A that this instructor had ever given on an initial assignment (she made sure to let me know that).

Shortly after submitting my second assignment, I was lying on the top bunk in my dorm room when the phone rang. It was HER! I was sure she’d called to tell me that after grading my second assignment, she was now certain that I too was an idiot.

But to my utter shock, she’d called to tell me that I was an excellent writer…that she had no more to teach me…and that I no longer had to attend class. Instead, I needed only to write two more papers and I would receive an A in the class. I came very close to falling off my bunk, and going “splat” on the tile floor below.

I’ll never forget that moment in time. I have to admit, it felt remarkable. I say all this because I want you to know that you are not being taught by someone who was termed an “idiot” by her freshman English teacher. And because unlike my freshman English teacher, I would like to make this as fun as possible! So…let’s dive in!

Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function?

Ah, memories of Schoolhouse Rock. Do you remember the tune? It proclaimed that the function of conjunctions are, “hooking up words, and phrases, and clauses.” This little ditty is not only catchy, it’s correct!

Conjunctions are words that function to connect clauses, words within clauses, phrases, and sentences.

So if you want to use the image of train cars hooking together in order to remember what conjunctions do—just like in the Schoolhouse Rock video—feel free!

Train illustration to remember coordinating conjunction-magoosh

Clauses

Since part of the definition of conjunctions includes the idea of connecting clauses, it would be helpful to be sure we are all on the same page and understand exactly what a clause is.

A clause is a building block of a sentence. In fact, it can be a complete sentence. Clauses contain a noun, a verb, and a predicate.

OK, I can hear some of you wondering what a predicate is, so let’s define it. A predicate is the part of a sentence or clause that tells us what the subject does or is. It can be said that the predicate is everything except the subject.

Another way of thinking about it is that every sentence has a subject and a predicate. The subject is, of course, what the sentence is about. So it follows that the predicate is what the rest of the sentence or clause tells us about the subject.

Here is an example:

    The owner of the arcade is a wealthy Englishman.
    The owner of the arcade = the subject of the sentence
    is a wealthy Englishman. = predicate (“is” is the verb)

Keep in mind that the predicate can include other things besides a verb. It can include direct or indirect objects, as well as various kinds of phrases.

Two Types of Clauses: Independent vs. Dependent

If you think about it, their names pretty much tell you what you need to know about these two different types of clauses.

An independent clause is a clause that can stand on its own. (Independent—get it?!) In other words, a full sentence, complete with a subject noun, verb, and predicate.

    Ex. He is sick.

A dependent clause is a clause that cannot stand on its own. (See? I told you it was pretty straightforward.) In other words, it needs help or is incomplete on its own.

    Ex. Since he is sick

By adding the word “since,” I now need another clause to make the sentence complete. And that clause needs to be an independent clause in order for the sentence to work.

    Ex. Since he is sick, he needs to go to the doctor.

“He needs to go to the doctor” is a complete sentence all on its own, so it is an independent clause. When you add that to the dependent clause, you now have a complete sentence.

Alarm clock coordinating conjunction-magoosh

Still awake out there?! Good! Now it’s time to go back to conjunctions: the topic of the day.

What is a Coordinating Conjunction?

There are three different types of conjunctions: coordinating, correlative, and subordinating. Today we are just going to look at coordinating conjunctions.

Coordinating conjunctions are conjunctions that connect elements of the same grammatical class, such as:

  • Nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, etc.
  • Clauses with clauses, phrases with phrases, etc.

Here are some simple examples:

  • You can make the grilled cheese sandwich using margarine or butter.
    • Connects two nouns
  • We can ski and skate tomorrow.
    • Connects two verbs
  • The money is hidden in the cookie jar or under the coffee mug.
    • Connects an independent clause with a dependent clause
  • He likes vanilla, but his favorite flavor is chocolate.
    • Connects two independent clauses

FANBOYS

What!? What do fanboys have to do with conjunctions?

Fanboys love superheroes-coordinating conjunction-magoosh

Well, it’s a good mnemonic device to help you quickly recall the list of coordinating conjunctions.

F – for
A – and
N – nor
B – but
O – or
Y – yet
S – so

Dispelling the Conjunction Myth

Lastly, I wanted to dispel a myth regarding conjunctions.

Grammar historians really don’t know where or when this myth began, but it continues to be taught by some teachers to this day. I am talking about the myth that you are not supposed to begin a sentence with a conjunction. For instance, did your teacher ever tell you not to begin a sentence with the word “and”?

Well, they were wrong.

It is perfectly OK to begin a sentence with a conjunction. It is believed that this myth began because teachers wanted to stop their students from using fragments instead of full sentences. I guess this makes sense; however, it is still wrong.

Of course, you should absolutely not use sentence fragments in your writing—only use full sentences. If you are, and using a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence helps your idea to flow better for the reader—feel free to use a conjunction.

Tips for Using Conjunctions to Start a Sentence

To be sure I’ve covered all the bases, here are some warnings to heed whenever using a conjunction to begin a sentence.

1. Don’t use a comma after the conjunction, unless it’s followed by an interrupter.

As you’ve seen, commas are typically used after conjunctions. However, this is not the case when the sentence begins with one of our FANBOYS. When starting a sentence with a conjunction, never place a comma after it unless it is followed by an interrupter.

    Example:
    So, unbeknownst to her, the family snuck off in the middle of the night.
    So = coordinating conjunction
    unbeknownst to her = interrupter

2. Always follow an initial conjunction by a main (or independent) clause.

    Examples:
    But he felt that this change in the movie’s plot would ruin the surprise ending.
    But = coordinating conjunction
    he felt that this change in the movie’s plot would ruin the surprise ending. = main clause

    So she continued on and completed the marathon.
    So = coordinating conjunction
    she continued on and completed the marathon. = main clause

3. Don’t overuse initial conjunctions.

In other words, don’t start all your sentences that way. It’s fine to use occasionally—when it helps the flow of your piece—but overuse is just bad form.

I hope this post was informative! What else do you want to know about coordinating conjunctions?

P.S. Become a better writer. Find out more here.

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