When you are having a conversation, conjunctions are so much a part of your regular speech, you barely notice them. Why then, do they become s o troublesome when you are using them in your written work? Does the comma go in front or behind? Does it need a comma at all, or perhaps the dreaded semi-colon? Can you start a sentence with that word? We know from that catchy song that a conjunction is word that connects words, phrases, and clauses. So here, we will skip right to the good part and show you how to best utilize conjunctions in your written work. For a quick reference guide, you may go to http://www.towson.edu/ows/conjunctions.htm.
The most common type of conjunction is Coordinating. The coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. Most people use these words frequently and with relative ease. There are also correlative conjunctions, so called because they have two parts: either…or; neither…nor; not only…but also; both…and. These conjunctions must be kept in pairs, as it would be incorrect to have your sentence read: “Neither Tom or myself would go with you.” And finally, there are conjunctive adverbs. There are too many to list here, but therefore, indeed, and meanwhile are just a few of these common adverbs. We call them conjunctive adverbs because they conjoin two independent clauses.
Just to be sure we don’t lose anyone in these descriptions, let’s review what a dependent clause and an independent clause are. When looking at the sentence: “Sean wants to play for Notre Dame, just like Rudy did,” you see that we have two clauses. “Sean wants to play for Notre Dame,” could be a complete sentence, so that is an independent clause. But “… just like Rudy did,” could not stand on its own as a complete sentence, so it is a dependent clause. It’s important to know the difference when you are choosing your punctuation.
- Punctuation and Conjunctions—Despite being frequently and horribly misused, the comma is a wonderful and versatile punctuation mark. It can separate an independent clause from a dependent clause: “Dad is going to be home soon, and not happy at all.” It can also separate two independent clauses: “The hammer dropped onto my head, and I all I could see was stars.” But a semicolon must only be used in between two independent clauses: “Celia had destroyed Nancy’s entire livelihood; yet Nancy remained Celia’s friend.
- Using the Right Conjunction—When having a verbal conversation, most people do not put a lot of thought into sentence construction. But when you are writing for academic or professional purposes, you want to ensure that every sentence is communicating what you intend it to. The sentence, “We missed our fourth-quarter goals, and we learned a few important tips,” sounds quite different from “We missed our fourth-quarter goals, but we learned a few important tips.” The second sentence uses but to make a contrast between a failure and a silver lining. The first sentence connects the failure to the learning. Which one of these would evoke the correct mood in your audience?
- Starting a Sentence with a Conjunction—There is a frequently-asked question about starting a sentence with And or But. Many in the older generation were taught that it is absolutely inappropriate, but as time has gone on, writers have banded together to say that it is just fine. However, when writing in an academic setting, you should be very careful when constructing your sentence to ensure that it meets the appropriate tone requirements for your essay. For creative works, Writers should examine such sentences with two questions in mind:
- Would the sentence and paragraph function just as well without the initial conjunction?
- Should the sentence in question be connected to the previous sentence? If the initial conjunction still seems appropriate, use it.
Once you look at the definitions of conjunctions and a few examples, it is easy to see that we use these helpful words every day in so many ways, and there is no reason to worry about them in our written work. All it takes is a little forethought when constructing your sentences, and as always, a thorough review after you finish your draft. There are so many options for your conjunctions; use them wisely.