Understanding Subordinating Conjunctions in American English

Marcus Froland

Subordinating conjunctions might sound like a complex term from your high school English class, but they’re **a lot simpler** than you think. In fact, you use them all the time when you’re speaking or writing without even noticing. They’re the **little words** that connect ideas in a sentence, making one idea dependent on the other.

But why should you care? Well, mastering subordinating conjunctions is like having a **secret weapon** for your English. It can take your speaking and writing from good to great, making your ideas flow better and your arguments more compelling. And who doesn’t want that? But here’s the thing: there’s more to these connectors than meets the eye.

Subordinating conjunctions are words that connect two sentences, where one depends on the other. These words show time, cause and effect, contrast, or condition. Common examples include “because,” “although,” “if,” and “while.” They help make our writing smooth and our ideas clear. For instance, in the sentence “I will go to the park if it doesn’t rain,” “if” is the subordinating conjunction linking the action of going to the park with the condition of not raining. Understanding these conjunctions is key to building complex sentences and improving your English.

Demystifying Subordinating Conjunctions: A Basic Introduction

Subordinating conjunctions, a cornerstone of grammatical conjunctions, are essential in enhancing sentence construction by establishing critical relationships between ideas. By introducing cause-and-effect, time, and place indications, these conjunctions play a vital role in forming complex sentences containing both independent and dependent clauses.

Understanding how to apply various grammar rules when using subordinating conjunctions allows your sentences to flow seamlessly, maintaining clarity and coherence in communication. Moreover, mastering the use of these conjunctions ensures that your writing effectively highlights main ideas and provides essential transitional cues within sentences.

“Subordinating conjunctions not only bring order to your writing but also guides your reader to understand the intention behind the sentence.”

In this section, we’ll provide a basic introduction to subordinating conjunctions and their applications in forming complex sentences.

Types of Relationships Subordinating Conjunctions Indicate

  1. Cause-and-effect
  2. Time
  3. Place

Each type of relationship adds depth and complexity to sentence structure, enabling you to construct sentences that connect thoughts effectively. Familiarizing yourself with these different relationships helps in identifying the appropriate subordinating conjunction for your sentence, adhering to grammar rules, and creating coherent, comprehensive statements.

Relationship Type Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions
Cause-and-effect because, since, so that
Time after, before, once, while, when, until
Place where, wherever

Always consider the context and relationship you want to convey within a sentence. Doing so will guide you in selecting the appropriate subordinating conjunction that accurately links your ideas and highlights the main points of your statement.

By grasping the core concepts of subordinating conjunctions, you can begin refining your writing skills, forming complex sentences that effectively communicate thoughts, and exploring new, sophisticated ways to express your ideas.

The Role of Subordinating Conjunctions in Sentence Construction

Subordinating conjunctions serve as the backbone of complex sentence construction by indicating various relationships and transitions between ideas, often highlighting the significance of the main clause in the process. These essential grammar tools help to enhance the richness and clarity of writing. In this section, we’ll explore cause-and-effect signal words, time-place shifts, and the pivotal role of subordinating conjunctions in connecting clauses.

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Signal Words for Cause and Effect Relationships

Words like “because,” “since,” and “so that” exhibit cause-and-effect relationships within complex sentences, illustrating reasons or purposes for an action within an independent clause. These subordinating conjunction examples play a crucial role in creating clauses of purpose.

“I decided to take a walk because I needed a break from work.”

In the example above, the word “because” connects the clause explaining the reason with the independent clause presenting the action taken. Cause-and-effect signal words enable the reader to understand the motivation behind actions, making your writing more engaging and informative.

Connecting Clauses to Depict Time and Place Shifts

Conjunctions such as “once,” “while,” “when,” “wherever,” and “before” show time and place shifts in a sentence. These words connect clauses to describe the timing of events or the location where actions take place. Temporal transitions and spatial conjunctions allow you to create more coherent sentence structures that communicate essential information effectively.

“She started cooking dinner while her children were playing outside.”

In this example, the subordinating conjunction “while” demonstrates how two actions are taking place simultaneously, creating a vivid impression of the scene for the reader.

Creating Complex Sentences with Dependent and Independent Clauses

Complex sentences are formed with the help of subordinating conjunctions that join dependent clauses, unable to stand alone, with independent clauses, which can function as complete sentences. This grammatical structure bridges the gap between clauses, facilitating better flow and cohesiveness in your writing.

Here are three common subordinating conjunctions and their applications:

  1. After: This word illustrates that one event occurs following another.
  2. Although: This conjunction sets up a contrast between two ideas or events.
  3. Since: This conjunction can either demonstrate cause and effect or express the passage of time.

Mastering the use of subordinating conjunctions in sentence construction enables you to craft more nuanced, connected, and grammatically accurate writings. By utilizing grammar tips and understanding the role of subordinating conjunctions, your writing will become more compelling and cohesive.

Common Missteps in Using Subordinating Conjunctions

As essential as subordinating conjunctions are for creating complex sentences in American English, common errors can still occur that can hinder the clarity and effectiveness of your writing. Some of the widespread grammar mistakes include improper placement of subordinating conjunctions, confusion with coordinating conjunctions, and punctuation errors, particularly with comma usage around clauses.

Let’s address these common errors, along with some suggestions to improve your command of subordinate conjunction use:

  1. Improper placement of subordinating conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions must be placed correctly to maintain the meaning of your sentence. Misplacing these conjunctions can lead to ambiguous and disjointed sentences. To prevent such errors, ensure that you place the conjunction before the dependent clause, and properly connect it to the independent clause.


Incorrect: She decided to purchase a new notebook because her old one was falling apart.

Correct: Because her old notebook was falling apart, she decided to purchase a new one.

  1. Confusion with coordinating conjunctions

It is crucial to differentiate between subordinating and coordinating conjunctions. While both connect clauses, subordinating conjunctions connect a dependent clause to an independent clause, and coordinating conjunctions connect two independent clauses. The most common coordinating conjunctions are remembered with the acronym FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), and they require a comma when joining clauses together.

  1. Punctuation errors around clauses
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Comma usage is crucial in sentences with subordinating conjunctions. Typically, a comma is used when the dependent clause comes before the independent clause. However, if the subordinating conjunction appears between clauses, the comma is usually omitted. Adjusting comma placement can significantly improve the clarity of your writing.


Incorrect: She liked the movie, although she didn’t like the ending.

Correct: She liked the movie, although, she didn’t like the ending.

By addressing these common grammar mistakes, you can enhance the coherence and impact of your writing. Properly using subordinating conjunctions will lead to well-structured, meaningful complex sentences, taking your communication skills to the next level.

Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions in Everyday Language

Everyday language is rife with subordinating conjunctions that aid in comparison, contrast, and conditional statements. These conjunctions are woven into speech to provide clarity and detail in communication. In this section, we’ll explore common subordinating conjunctions used to emphasize comparison and contrast, as well as to introduce conditions and hypothetical clauses.

Highlighting Comparison and Contrast

To make complex sentences richer and more sophisticated, subordinating conjunctions such as although, even though, and while can be used to compare and contrast ideas, setting up opposite conditions or illustrating differences. Here are some example sentences illustrating their usage:

Although she studied for hours, she didn’t feel prepared for the exam.

Even though he was tired, he decided to go for a run.

While Samantha enjoys painting, her brother prefers playing the piano.

Introducing Conditions and Hypotheticals

Subordinating conjunctions like if, unless, and provided that are used to introduce conditions or hypothetical situations, adding layers of meaning and possibility to a sentence’s primary assertion. These conjunctions create conditional clauses that help to express a range of possibilities and outcomes. Let’s look at some examples:

If it rains, we’ll have to cancel the picnic.

Unless you study harder, you will not pass the exam.

She can go on the trip, provided that she finishes her project on time.

Understanding and using these subordinating conjunctions in everyday language enables you to create more complex and detailed sentences, conveying precise meaning and context. Here’s a table summarizing the common subordinating conjunctions mentioned above, along with their respective functions:

Subordinating Conjunction Function
Although Comparing and contrasting ideas
Even though Removing contrast or contradiction
While Showing simultaneous events or contrasting actions
If Introducing conditions or hypotheticals
Unless Presenting negative conditions
Provided that Stipulating conditions or requirements

By incorporating these subordinating conjunctions into your everyday English, you can improve your practical grammar skills and make your sentences more engaging and vivid, effectively demonstrating the relationships between ideas in both written and spoken communication.

Mastering Punctuation with Subordinating Conjunctions

Proper punctuation with subordinating conjunctions is critical for clear communication and grammar mastery. One of the most important punctuation rules to remember is the use of commas around dependent and independent clauses. In this section, we’ll dive into the role of commas and explore the nuances between subordinating and coordinating conjunctions, helping you to enhance your writing skills with complex sentence structure.

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Understanding the Role of Commas

Commas play a crucial role in maintaining clarity when using subordinating conjunctions. Generally, a comma is used when the dependent clause precedes the independent clause:

When the game was over, the team celebrated.

However, the comma is omitted when the subordinating conjunction is situated in the middle of the sentence:

The team celebrated when the game was over.

Commas can also signify the beginning of a dependent clause when placed at the start of a complex sentence. In such cases, a comma is used for separation:

Although it was raining, they decided to go for a walk.

The Nuances of Subordinate versus Coordinating Conjunctions

Understanding the differences between subordinate conjunctions and coordinating conjunctions is essential for accurate and effective sentence structure. Subordinate conjunctions, such as “although,” “because,” and “since,” link dependent and independent clauses to form complex sentences:

Since it was my birthday, I decided to throw a party.

On the other hand, coordinating conjunctions, like “and,” “but,” and “or,” join two independent clauses, making compound sentences:

I wanted to go to the park, but it was already getting late.

Here is a table showcasing the primary differences between these two types of conjunctions:

Subordinating Conjunctions Coordinating Conjunctions
Link dependent and independent clauses Join two independent clauses
Create complex sentences Create compound sentences
Examples: although, because, since Examples: and, but, or

By understanding the role of commas and mastering the nuances between subordinating and coordinating conjunctions, you will be able to construct well-structured, complex sentences. This knowledge will not only enhance your grammar mastery but also help you to communicate more effectively in both written and spoken language.

A Comprehensive List of Subordinating Conjunctions for Reference

Mastering the use of subordinating conjunctions is essential for effective communication and academic writing. To help you improve your writing skills, we have compiled a comprehensive list of subordinating conjunctions that you can use as a reference. This grammar guide will provide you with an invaluable resource to create rich, nuanced, and complex sentences in both your academic endeavors and everyday conversations.

Some common subordinating conjunctions include “although,” “since,” “because,” “once,” “until,” “while,” “when,” “wherever,” “if,” “unless,” and “provided that.” Each of these conjunctions serves a specific purpose, such as illustrating cause-and-effect relationships, indicating time and place shifts, or introducing conditions and hypothetical scenarios. Familiarizing yourself with this list will enable you to effortlessly incorporate these conjunctions into your writing and, consequently, elevate the quality of your work.

Beyond merely memorizing this subordinating conjunction list, it is crucial to understand the context in which each conjunction should be used. By practicing and applying these conjunctions in your writing, you will develop a deeper comprehension of their function and purpose. With this knowledge, you will be well-equipped to create clear, meaningful, and engaging complex sentences, ultimately enhancing the readability and effectiveness of your written communication.

In conclusion, a comprehensive understanding of subordinating conjunctions is integral to producing high-quality written content. By using this reference as a guide, you will have the tools necessary to skillfully integrate these conjunctions into your writing, yielding intricate, sophisticated, and coherent sentences that effectively convey your intended message.