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What Is A Correlative Conjunction? Definition & Examples

Teamwork is a beautiful thing. This is as true in grammar as it is in real life. Often, conjunctions take on the job of connecting parts of speech, and they do this all by themselves. However, some conjunctions love to team up and work together to form connections. These conjunctions are called correlative conjunctions. A pair of correlative conjunctions acts as a dynamic duo that is used to create an exciting sentence like The superhero’s enemies include not only a crazy clown but also a ridiculous riddlesmith. Correlative conjunctions make great teams, and they are more than ready to confront your boring sentences—but first, you must learn how to best deploy their superpowers.

What is a correlative conjunction?

A correlative conjunction is one of a pair of conjunctions that work together to connect equal parts of a sentence. The second member of a pair of correlative conjunctions is also a coordinating conjunction. If you’re curious, you can learn more about coordinating conjunctions in our detailed profile of them.

To get an idea of how we use correlative conjunctions, look at the following sentence:

 

  • Ally likes both cats and dogs.

This sentence uses correlative conjunctions to connect two objects. This sentence states that Ally likes cats, and she likes dogs, too. Both of the things connected by the correlative conjunctions carry equal weight and neither is more important than the other. We could easily make parallel sentences where either noun acts as the object:

 

  • Ally likes cats. Ally likes dogs.

Correlative conjunctions don’t just connect nouns, though. Depending on which ones we use, we can connect verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, and even clauses. In general, we don’t use commas with correlative conjunctions:

 

    • Verbs: I would rather drive than walk.
    • Adjectives: The movie was not only funny but also educational.
    • Adverb and noun: The cheetah ran as fast as lightning.
    • Prepositional phrases: The letter was neither from me nor from her.
    • Clauses: We haven’t decided whether we will go to the movies or we will go to the arcade.  

However, you might see a comma next to a correlative conjunction if the comma is being used for another reason, such as separating out a modifier, a word or phrase that tells us more about another word. For example:

 

  • We are considering either Sarah, who has a lot of experience, or Tom, who has a lot of potential, for the position.

Correlative conjunction examples

List of correlative conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions always come in pairs. The following list shows just some of the commonly used correlative conjunctions:

 

  • both … and
  • either … or
  • neither … nor
  • not only … but also
  • such … that
  • rather … than
  • as … as
  • no sooner … than
  • if … then
  • scarcely … when

Correlative conjunctions in a sentence

The following example sentences show how we use correlative conjunctions in sentences:

 

  • Freddy is good at both singing and playing piano.
  • She wants neither tomato nor lettuce on her sandwich.
  • My new puppy not only chewed on the sofa but also knocked over the lamp.
  • The boss wanted the new building finished as soon as possible.
  • Scott knew if he wanted a new car then he would need to work a second job.

How do conjunctive adverbs work and when do you use them? Let’s find out.

What is the role of correlative conjunctions?

Correlative conjunctions are used to link parts of speech with equal importance together in order to make more complex sentences. We can use them for a variety of different purposes. Two examples include:

Presenting choices or options

Either … or and neither … nor are two commonly used pairs of correlative conjunctions. They are both used to present a selection of two choices or options. Either … or is used positively, and neither … nor is used negatively.

 

  • I’m thinking about going to either Dubai or Bali for my vacation.
  • The detective concluded that neither Mr. Green nor Colonel Mustard was the culprit.

Rather … than is also used to refer to a set of choices. These correlative conjunctions are typically used to say that one option or choice is preferred over the other.

 

  • If it was up to her, she would much rather spend time with her family than sit alone in her apartment.

Similes

As … as is a pair of correlative conjunctions that is commonly used to make similes. When they are, the first as is often followed by an adjective or adverb and the second as is followed by a noun.

 

  • The week crept along as slowly as a snail.
  • They say that mighty Hercules was as strong as a hundred powerful bulls.

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Correlative conjunction best practices

There are a few things to be careful of when using correlative conjunctions.

Correlative conjunctions connect equal information

Correlative conjunctions are used to form parallel structure in a sentence. This means that they must connect things of equal value. To get an idea of what this means, take a look at the following sentence:

 

  • Lorenzo likes both playing soccer and to play basketball.

This sentence attempts to use correlative conjunctions to connect a noun phrase and an infinitive phrase, which are not equal. This sentence could be rewritten to make two connected parts equal, as in:

 

  • Lorenzo likes both playing soccer and playing basketball.
  • Lorenzo likes playing both soccer and basketball.

Here are some more examples of sentences that use correlative conjunctions to connect unequal things followed by possible fixes:

Incorrect: We can either visit the park (verb phrase) or to the zoo (prepositional phrase).
Correct: We can either visit the park or go to the zoo.  (Both are verb phrases.)
Correct: We can go either to the park or to the zoo. (Both are prepositional phrases.)

Incorrect: Obviously, Leslie would rather win (verb) than failure (noun).
Correct: Obviously, Leslie would rather win than lose. (Both are verbs.)

Subject-verb agreement

If correlative conjunctions connect two singular subjects, the verb will typically be singular:

 

  • Neither Abigail nor Zane likes Mondays.

If correlative conjunctions connect two plural subjects, the verb will typically be plural:

 

  • Neither the cats nor the dogs like baths.

If correlative conjunctions connect a singular subject and a plural subject together, the verb usually agrees with the subject that is closer to it.

 

  • Neither the teacher nor the students know Chinese.
  • Neither the students nor the teacher knows Chinese.

Broaden your understanding of how to use singular and plural nouns, as the subject or object of a sentence.

Avoid double negatives with neithernor

A common mistake is to accidentally make a double negative when using neither … nor. The correlative conjunction pair of neither … nor is already negative, so a sentence that uses it doesn’t need another negative word. Take a look at the following sentence:

 

  • Curt didn’t go to neither the bank nor the gym.

If left alone, this sentence would mean that Curt went to both the bank and the gym. It is likely that this is not what the writer intended when they wrote this sentence. Instead, the sentence should simply read:

 

  • Curt went to neither the bank nor the gym.

Now, the sentence says that Curt didn’t go to the bank, and he didn’t go to the gym, which is likely what the writer intended to say.

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