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What Is A Subordinating Conjunction? Definition & Examples

Conjunctions are words that we use to make connections in sentences. They act as the grammar glue that we can use to stick words, phrases, or sentences together. For example, we can take the phrase the sun set and attach it to the phrase We played basketball using the conjunction until to create a sentence that says We played basketball until the sun set. This particular sentence has a conjunction known as a subordinating conjunction. Subordinating conjunctions can get a little confusing, so let’s take a closer look at them.

What is a subordinating conjunction?

A subordinating conjunction is a conjunction that is used to link a subordinate clause, also called a dependent clause, to an independent clause. There is a lot going on here, so let’s break this down a bit.

In grammar, a clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a predicate. Typically, the subject is a noun (or word/phrase acting as a noun) that tells us who or what is doing something. The predicate is typically a verb (or verb phrase) that tells us what the subject is doing. For example, in the sentence My dogs bark, the subject is my dogs and the predicate is bark.

An independent clause is a clause that can stand by itself as a complete sentence. For example, My dogs bark is an independent clause.

A subordinate clause is a clause that modifies an independent clause. A subordinate clause cannot stand by itself. For example, the clause whenever they see cats is a subordinate clause. This clause doesn’t express a complete thought. Who is they? What happens whenever they see cats? Information is missing here, and this clause doesn’t make grammatical sense when used alone.

A subordinating conjunction is a word or phrase that links a subordinate clause to an independent clause. Typically, the subordinating conjunction comes first in a subordinate clause.

Putting it all together, we create the sentence My dogs bark whenever they see cats. The subordinating conjunction whenever links My dogs bark and they see cats to form a complete sentence. This sentence now tells us when specifically the dogs bark.

Subordinating conjunction examples

List of subordinating conjunctions

There are a lot of subordinating conjunctions. The following list contains just some of them:

 

  • because
  • after
  • before
  • since
  • although
  • than
  • that
  • unless
  • until
  • when
  • where
  • while
  • in order to
  • as long as
  • even though

Subordinating conjunctions in a sentence

Let’s look at some more examples of sentences that use subordinating conjunctions. In each sentence, the conjunctions are in bold.

 

  • I’ve liked mystery novels since I was a teenager.
  • Pamela needed help getting around Madrid because she didn’t speak Spanish.
  • While pizza is delicious, it is not a healthy food.
  • Whenever Halloween comes around, my neighbor buys tons of pumpkins.
  • Although she’ll never admit it, Chloe loves playing games with her younger sisters.

What is the role of a subordinating conjunction?

Subordinating conjunctions perform important roles in sentences. They are used to form a  complex sentence, which is a sentence that has both an independent and a subordinate clause. They are also used, along with coordinating conjunctions, to make compound-complex sentences, which have multiple independent clauses and at least one subordinate clause.

Complex sentence: My sister and I go hiking when the weather is nice.
Compound-complex sentence: The middle school students stayed until the bell rang, but the high schoolers left as soon as the principal was done talking.

We can use subordinating conjunctions in sentences to explain different types of relationships.

What is a coordinating conjunction? Read this article to learn about them.

Cause and effect

The word because is a commonly used subordinating conjunction that is used to show cause and effect. For example:

 

  • Our professor was late (effect) because she was stuck in traffic (cause).
  • Melanie was ecstatic (effect) because she got accepted into Harvard (cause).
  • Bats come out at night (effect) because they are nocturnal (cause).

Time

Subordinating conjunctions are often used to link clauses that explain relationships based on time. For example:

 

  • Reginald read the newspaper after he finished his breakfast.
  • Rebecca double-checked her answers before she turned in her test.
  • Billy Ray played the guitar while Miley sang.

Subordinating conjunction best practices

There are two main ways that we use subordinating conjunctions in sentences:

After an independent clause

We can put the subordinating conjunction after the independent clause to introduce the subordinate clause. When we do this, we do NOT use a comma. The following sentences show examples of subordinating conjunctions used in this way:

 

  • I stayed inside because it was raining.
  • She has loved ice cream cake since she was a kid.
  • He showed me the car that he bought.
  • We’ll stay until the show is over.

At the beginning of a sentence

We can use a subordinating conjunction to introduce a sentence. In this case, the subordinate clause is typically followed by the independent clause that it modifies. If we write a sentence this way, we put a comma after the entire subordinate clause. Here are examples of sentences using this method:

 

  • Although it was a close game, we managed to win.
  • After he ate, the lion took a nap.
  • Until it stops snowing, we’ll stay in the warm cabin.
  • While Ben cooked dinner, his daughter did her homework.

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Subordinating conjunctions vs. prepositions

A subordinating conjunction performs a similar role to another type of word known as a preposition. Like conjunctions, prepositions are used to introduce phrases that modify parts of sentences. Some words, such as since, after, before, and until can be used as either a conjunction or a preposition.

The main difference between these two types of words is that subordinating conjunctions introduce clauses while prepositions do not. A preposition is typically only followed by its object and modifiers. A prepositional phrase does not have a subject or a predicate, while a subordinate clause must have both a subject and a predicate.

Let’s look at how subordinating conjunctions and prepositions are used differently in sentences:

Subordinating conjunction: We left after the sun rose. (The conjunction after is followed by a clause that has both a subject and a predicate.)
Preposition: We left after sunrise. (The preposition after is followed by an object.)

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