Coordinating Conjunctions

What are coordinating conjunctions, and how are they used? Coordinating conjunctions join words, phrases, or clauses that have the same grammatical function. You can remember the seven coordinating conjunctions by using the mnemonic device FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. The coordinating conjunctions and, or, and but are most commonly used. They’re often essential for forming complete sentences because they balance related elements.


Each coordinating conjunction has its own common functions. For instance, yet and but often compare, contrast, or modify ideas. For example: “I want to go to the party, but I have a lot of work to finish tonight.”For links a statement with an explanation, as in “He left early for he was dreadfully tired.”

The word or usually presents many options or possibilities. Consider this example: “Do you want an apple or an orange?”

The coordinating conjunction and has a few diverse functions. It can show a sequence of events or a cause-and-effect relationship. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck uses and to compare two ideas that reflect upon one another: “There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue.” The two clauses have the same structure, and the conjunction creates balance.

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Creating a Balanced Structure

Coordinating conjunctions can link equal grammatical elements, such as two words or two phrases. They shouldn’t be used to connect unbalanced elements. For example, a word and a phrase would have different weights within a sentence. When conjunctions act as coordinators, they usually appear between the two linked elements. However, conjunctions can begin sentences when they appear in clauses that are connected by a semicolon. Clauses are phrases that contain a subject and verb.

You can use coordinating conjunctions to join two main types of clauses: dependent and independent. Dependent (subordinate) clauses are incomplete thoughts that don’t work as standalone sentences. Independent clauses are complete thoughts that could plausibly stand on their own. Coordinating conjunctions give them equal weight. Here’s an example from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” The two independent clauses have equal weight, so it’s appropriate to join them with a coordinating conjunction. Because these are longer clauses, it’s also best to use a comma along with the conjunction.

Series and Clauses

Coordinating conjunctions can link three or more elements to form a series, e.g. “pencils, paper, erasers, and notebooks.” You should use commas to separate individual items in a series. This is especially helpful when the conjunction connects series of longer phrases or clauses.

When you repeat the conjunction within a simple series, commas aren’t usually necessary. For example: “Bring sandwiches and drinks and cups to the picnic.”

Commas are useful when the sentence is more complex. In The Two Towers, J. R. R. Tolkien uses nor to connect a series of clauses using commas: “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory.”

When two independent clauses are easy to differentiate, it’s okay to use conjunctions without commas. For example: “John studied all night but he didn’t pass the test.” Both clauses could stand alone as short and complete sentences.

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