Author Topic: Part 1 - Getting reacquainted with the coordinating conjunctions  (Read 6257 times)

Joe Carillo

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Timely Reacquaintance with Connectives and Discourse Markers

For 12 consecutive days from today, June 1 to June 12, 2020, the Forum is running a special retrospective of its comprehensive series in 2017 on the English connectives and discourse markers. These connectives—the coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs, prepositions, and discourse markers—are the basic tools of English for enabling readers or listeners to navigate the sense and logic of what’s written or being spoken about. Get started today by getting reacquainted with the coordinating conjunctions.

Part 1 - Getting reacquainted with the coordinating conjunctions

We will recall that the basic connectives for linking two or more grammatically equal sentence elements are the so-called coordinating conjunctions. There are seven of them, namely “for,” “and,” ‘nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so” (the “fanboys” for short). Their use creates what’s known as a compound element, which can be in the form of a compound subject, a compound predicate, or a compound sentence.


Let’s start from the simplest coordinating conjunctions:

1. “And” to form a compound subject: “Arts and sciences are staples of Western liberal education.” “Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s play.”

2. “Or” to form a compound predicate: “From here you sail to Puerto Galera or fly to Puerto Princesa.” Here, “or” combines the verb phrases “sail to Puerto Galera” and “fly to Puerto Princesa” to form a compound predicate.

3. “But” to form a compound sentence: “They find their new boss not really likable, but they find him an improvement over their previous bumbling boss.” Here, “but” connects the independent clauses “they find their new boss not really likable” and “they find him an improvement over their previous bumbling boss” to form a compound sentence.

From the preceding paragraph, we can see that forming a compound sentence isn’t as simple as just forming compound subjects and compound predicates. It requires not just linking words or phrases spatially but using logic and semantics to form ideas. In particular, it needs a clear understanding of what independent clauses and dependent or subordinate clauses are, and what makes particular sentence elements coequal or parallel. We must firmly keep in mind that coordinating conjunctions can work only to combine independent clauses and coequal or parallel sentence elements.

Remember now that an independent clause can stand its own as a complete sentence, while a dependent or subordinate clause can’t do so and must depend on another clause to acquire meaning. Consider this first clause, “we voted for her,” and this second one, “believing she was competent.” The first, which can stand on its own because it forms a complete thought, is an independent clause; the second, which must latch on to another clause to make sense, is a dependent clause. Now see what happens when we make this second clause subordinate to the first: “Believing she was competent, we voted for her.” Combined they make a complete and logical sentence.

We will also remember that for two sentence elements to be coequal, none of them should be dependent on or subordinate to the other; and that for them to be parallel, both should have the same grammatical and structural form. This isn’t the case with the two sentence elements we’ve combined above; thus, they aren’t coordinate elements.   

We can now discuss the role of the coordinating conjunctions in compound sentence construction:

1. “And” to establish an additive relationship between two independent clauses: “The feuding politicians couldn’t find common ground, and they ended up demolishing each other.”

2. “But” or “yet” to indicate contrast or opposition between ideas expressed by two independent clauses: “Many online trollers mercilessly bash certain personalities, but/yet the personalities funding these trollers are often even more contemptible.”

3. “Or” to indicate alternatives indicated by two independent clauses: “We can leave right now, or we can go when the rain stops.”

4. “Nor” to indicate negation of the ideas conveyed by two independent clauses: “She doesn’t want to marry her fiancé nor wish to give back their engagement ring.” (The full form of this construction: “She doesn’t want to marry her fiancé nor does she wish to give back their engagement ring.”)

5. “So” to indicate an outcome expressed by an independent clause: “He’s an old hand in politics, so he’s biding his time after his latest defeat.”

6. And last, “for,” in the sense of “because,” to express a cause-and-effect relationship between two independent clauses: “They kicked him out, for he had obnoxious habits.”

It's important to keep in mind this general rule in compound sentence constructions: the independent clause being combined must be set apart by a comma from the other independent clause, as shown in all of the six examples given above.

(Next: Part 2 - Getting reacquainted with the subordinating conjunctions)    June 2, 2017
« Last Edit: June 03, 2020, 01:37:20 AM by Joe Carillo »