A subordinating conjunction is a word or phrase that links a dependent clause to an independent clause. This word or phrase indicates that a clause has informative value to add to the sentence’s main idea, signaling a cause-and-effect relationship or a shift in time and place between the two clauses.
Sound complicated? Let’s break it down.
A dependent clause, also known as a subordinate clause, is a clause with two specific qualities. Firstly, it does not express a complete unit of thought on its own; it cannot stand as its own sentence. Secondly, it depends upon an independent clause—one that can stand on its own as a complete sentence—to form a complete idea. If independent and dependent clauses could be likened to Batman and Robin, the dependent, or subordinate, clause would be Robin, Batman’s assistant. The independent, main clause would be Batman, his superhero boss.
Subordinating conjunctions showing cause and effect
The subordinating conjunction that is simplest to explain is because. Because is a conjunction with just one purpose: to show a cause-and-effect relationship between a subordinate clause and a main clause. On its own, a clause beginning with because is incomplete.
We have the sense that there is something missing here. Let’s add an independent clause so this statement has something to lean on.
Now we will combine the two in a complex sentence.
In this sentence, “Robin wasn’t allowed in the Batmobile any longer” is an independent clause. It could stand on its own as a complete sentence. A clause that shows a causal relationship, such as “because he wouldn’t wear a seat belt” (answering the question “Why?” or “For what purpose?”), is often referred to as a clause of purpose.
Other subordinating conjunctions that can show cause-and-effect relationships and function in the same way are for, as, since, though, due to, provided that, because of, unless, and so/so that.
Subordinating conjunctions signaling relationships of time or place
Another function of subordinating conjunctions is to show a relationship between two clauses involving a transition of time or place. Some examples of such subordinating conjunctions are once, while, when, whenever, where, wherever, before, and after.
Comma placement and subordinating conjunctions
Subordinating conjunctions that fall in the middle of a sentence are generally not preceded by a comma. This is the opposite of what is done with coordinating conjunctions, or words that join two independent clauses (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and sometimes so).
When a subordinate clause begins a sentence, however, the whole clause (but not the subordinating conjunction itself) is followed by a comma.
A handy list of subordinating conjunctions
- as if
- as long as
- as much as
- as soon as
- as though
- by the time
- even if
- even though
- in case
- in order that
- in the event that
- now that
- only if
- provided that
- whether or not
Subordinating conjunction FAQs
What are subordinating conjunctions?
Subordinating conjunctions are words and phrases that connect dependent clauses to independent clauses. They usually show a cause-and-effect relationship or a shift in time or place.
What are examples of subordinating conjunctions?
We can’t go to the mall because our car broke down.
Whenever I’m in Philadelphia, I always get a cheesesteak.
How do you use subordinating conjunctions in a sentence?
Place subordinating conjunctions at the beginning of the dependent clause. If the dependent clause comes before the independent clause, put a comma at the end of the dependent clause.
Can subordinating conjunctions start a sentence?
Subordinating conjunctions often start a sentence whenever the dependent clause comes first.