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The Coordinating Conjunction

Recognize a coordinating conjunction when you see one.

And, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet—these are the seven coordinating conjunctions. To remember all seven, you might want to learn one of these acronyms: FANBOYS, YAFNOBS, or FONYBAS.

F = for
A = and
N = nor
B = but
O = or
Y = yet
S = so
Y = yet
A = and
F = for
N = nor
O = or
B = but
S = so
F = for
O = or
N = nor
Y = yet
B = but
A = and
S = so

Coordinating conjunctions connect words, phrases, and clauses. Look at the examples that follow:

The bowl of squid eyeball stew is hot and delicious.

The squid eyeball stew is so thick that you can eat it with a fork or spoon.

Rocky, my orange tomcat, loves having his head scratched but hates getting his claws trimmed.

Rocky terrorizes the poodles next door yet adores the German shepherd across the street.

Rocky refuses to eat dry cat food, nor will he touch a saucer of squid eyeball stew.

I hate to waste a single drop of squid eyeball stew, for it is expensive and time-consuming to make.

Even though I added cream to the squid eyeball stew, Rocky ignored his serving, so I got a spoon and ate it myself.

Understand the difference between coordination and subordination.

Use a coordinating conjunction when you want to give equal emphasis to two main clauses. The pattern for coordination looks like this:

main clause + , + coordinating conjunction + main clause.

Subordination, however, emphasizes the idea in the main clause more than the one in the subordinate clause. Generally, the patterns look like these:

main clause + Ø + subordinate clause.

subordinate clause + , + main clause.

Read the pairs of sentences that follow. The first version coordinates the two ideas. The second version subordinates one idea to emphasize the other.

To survive the fetal pig dissection, Rinalda agreed to make all of the incisions, and Frances promised to remove and label the organs.

To survive the fetal pig dissection, Rinalda agreed to make all of the incisions if Frances would promise to remove and label the organs.

Diana stared dreamily at the handsome Mr. McKenzie, but Olivia, who hated economics, furiously jiggled her foot, impatient to escape the boring class.

While Diana was staring dreamily at the handsome Mr. McKenzie, Olivia furiously jiggled her foot, impatient to escape the boring economics class that she hated.

At a red light, Maria jumped out of Gino's car and slammed the door, for she could not tolerate one more minute of the heavy metal music that Gino insisted on blasting from the stereo.

At a red light, Maria jumped out of Gino's car and slammed the door because she could not tolerate one more minute of the heavy metal music that Gino insisted on blasting from the stereo.

Making an A in Anatomy and Physiology has not helped Sima choose a career. She might decide to make her parents happy and go to medical school, or she might use her knowledge of the human body to become a sculptor.

Making an A in Anatomy and Physiology has not helped Sima choose a career. Although she might decide to make her parents happy and go to medical school, she might also use her knowledge of the human body to become a sculptor.

Kyle refused to eat the salad served with the meal, nor would he touch any green vegetable put on his plate.

After Kyle refused the salad served with the meal, he then would not touch the green vegetables put on his plate.

Joe spent seven hours studying calculus at the Mexican diner, so now he can set his math book on fire with his salsa breath.

Since Joe spent seven hours studying calculus at the Mexican diner, he can now set his math book on fire with his salsa breath.

Because she gets seasick, Danielle is dreading the spring break cruise, yet she might enjoy herself once she realizes how many cute guys in skimpy bathing suits parade the decks.

Even though Danielle is dreading getting seasick on the spring break cruise, she will probably enjoy herself once she realizes how many cute guys in skimpy bathing suits parade the decks.

Punctuate coordinating conjunctions correctly.

Three patterns in writing use coordinating conjunctions. Add commas when required.

Pattern 1 — Connecting two main clauses

When you connect two main clauses with a coordinating conjunction, use a comma. The pattern looks like this:

main clause + , + coordinating conjunction + main clause.

Here is an example:

While I am at work, my dog Floyd sleeps on the bed , and my cat Buster naps in the bathtub.

Pattern 2 — Connecting two items

You can also use a coordinating conjunction to connect any two items. These items can be any grammatical unit except main clauses. The pattern looks like this:

item + Ø + coordinating conjunction + item

Here are some examples:

My dog Floyd has too many fleas and too much hair.

My cat Buster has beautiful blue eyes but a destructive personality.

Pattern 3 — Connecting three or more items in a series

When you have three or more items in a series, you generally use a comma before the coordinating conjunction. Some handbooks and style guides will tell you that this comma is optional, but my advice is to put it in. The pattern looks like this:

item + , + item + , + coordinating conjunction + item

Here is an example:

Swatting olives off the kitchen counter, dragging toilet paper streamers through the house, and terrorizing Jacques Cousteau, the parakeet, have consumed another of Buster's days.

Yes, you can begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction!

Some teachers warn that beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is wrong. Teachers will typically tell you this because they are trying to help you avoid writing fragments. Other times teachers give this advice because their preference is that a sentence not begin with a coordinating conjunction.

What you should remember is that you break no grammar rule if you begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. Because you might be breaking your instructors' rules, however, you should ask what their preferences are.

If you decide to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, keep these three things in mind:

Here are some examples:

While I was answering the telephone, Buster, my cat, jumped onto the kitchen counter and swatted all of my jalapeño-stuffed olives onto the dirty kitchen floor. So I had to rinse off the cat hair and crumbs sticking to these delicacies before I could add them to the salad.

Flying down the bumpy path, Genette hit a rock with the front wheel of her mountain bike, flew over the handlebars, and crashed into a clump of prickly palmetto bushes. Yet even this accident would not deter her from completing the race.

Only when an interrupter immediately follows the coordinating conjunction do you need to use commas. Read this example:

We hoped that decorating the top of Christine's cupcake with a dead grasshopper would freak her out. But, to our amazement, she just popped the whole thing in her mouth, chewed, and swallowed.

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