Of all the parts of speech, conjunctions probably pack the most usefulness into the most unassuming form. They’re function words, which means they exist only to be of service. In the case of conjunctions, that service is to express connections between other parts of a sentence.
Casey drank a glass of water because they were thirsty.
The day Zoe went to the beach was both windy and warm.
It was fair but unpleasant to hear the description of the damage I’d done to the car.
Some of the most useful conjunctions belong to a subset known as coordinating conjunctions. They are the words that create links between words or groups of words.
What is a coordinating conjunction?
A coordinating conjunction is a word that connects two or more elements of the same grammatical type. The word coordinating refers specifically to bringing things together on the same level; this is what sets coordinating conjunctions apart from subordinating conjunctions, which join elements of unequal grammatical standing.
The elements joined by coordinating conjunctions can be individual words, phrases, or clauses. The seven most common coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so—the first letters of which spell out the memorable acronym FANBOYS.
Here are some examples of FANBOYS in sentences:
Plenty of vegetables were ready to be picked in her garden, so Maria didn’t go to the farmers’ market this week.
Do you like the taste of peaches or mangoes better?
Samir bikes to the park and plays soccer there almost every weekend.
Coordinating conjunctions to join single words
When a coordinating conjunction joins two or more individual words, those words should be the same part of speech: a noun with a noun, a verb with a verb, an adjective with an adjective, and so on. Here are some examples, with the coordinating conjunctions in bold and the words being connected underlined:
Did you remember to bring pen and paper?
Sometimes I shower or bathe at night instead of in the morning.
Xan found her classmates’ comments on her writing challenging yet helpful.
Coordinating conjunctions to join phrases
Coordinating conjunctions can also link phrases of the same grammatical type.
In the following sentence, the coordinating conjunction and connects two noun phrases:
The antique desk and the modern lamp look surprisingly natural together.
Here’s a sentence in which the coordinating conjunction but connects two prepositional phrases:
I got to the movie before Edam but after Vera.
And in this next example, nor joins two adjective phrases. (Note that in the example, nor is both a coordinating conjunction and a correlative conjunction with its partner, neither.)
The snack we ate was neither very tasty nor filling enough to tide us over till dinner.
Coordinating conjunctions to join independent clauses
An independent clause is a clause that can stand alone as a simple sentence. When two independent clauses are logically closely related, it often makes sense to combine them into a compound sentence with the help of a coordinating conjunction and a comma.
I wanted something to eat, so I looked in the fridge.
Reading fiction is beneficial, for it can make us more empathetic.
The host borrowed dozens of folding chairs, yet there were not enough for the guests.
We liked the play’s story, but we didn’t care for its staging.
Commas and coordinating conjunctions
Commas appear before coordinating conjunctions in two different circumstances: when the coordinating conjunction joins two independent clauses to form a compound sentence and when it joins more than two elements in a series.
In compound sentences
Most of the time, when a coordinating conjunction connects two independent clauses to create a compound sentence, a comma appears before the conjunction.
I haven’t been to the supermarket yet this week, but I plan to go today.
However, it’s generally considered OK to omit the comma when the two independent clauses are short and the coordinating conjunction is and.
I was hot and I was thirsty.
When and is used between the last two elements in a series of three or more things, the question of whether to use a comma before it is a matter of publishing style or individual preference. This comma is called the Oxford or serial comma. Both example sentences below are grammatically correct, but the first uses the Oxford comma and the second does not.
Let’s get ready for school, eat some breakfast, and watch television.
Let’s get ready for school, eat some breakfast and watch television.
Coordinating conjunctions vs. conjunctive adverbs
Like coordinating conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs are transition words used to connect two logically related independent clauses. Unlike coordinating conjunctions, they aren’t strong enough to do that job with just a comma between them and the first independent clause; they must be used between a semicolon and a comma.
There are many ways to compost at home; however, some are more time-consuming than others.
Coordinating conjunctions to begin sentences
There’s a common belief that it’s grammatically incorrect to use a coordinating conjunction at the start of a sentence. But that has never been a rule. In fact, starting some of your sentences with coordinating conjunctions can make for polished transitions and give your writing a better sense of flow. The following examples express the same idea, first with a coordinating conjunction starting a sentence and then without.
The town always held a bell-ringing ceremony to kick off the new school year. But this year, the school district had something extra special planned.
The town always held a bell-ringing ceremony to kick off the new school year. This year, however, the school district had something extra special planned.
Coordinating conjunction FAQs
What is a coordinating conjunction?
A coordinating conjunction is a word that connects two or more elements of the same grammatical type. Those elements can be individual words, phrases, or clauses.
What does FANBOYS stand for?
FANBOYS is an acronym for the seven most common coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.
When do you use a comma before a coordinating conjunction?
When a coordinating conjunction connects two independent clauses to form a compound sentence, a comma almost always appears before the coordinating conjunction. It’s acceptable to omit the comma if the two independent clauses are short and the coordinating conjunction is and.
When the coordinating conjunction and is used between the last two elements in a series of three or more, whether to use a comma before it (called the Oxford or serial comma) is a matter of personal choice or publishing style.