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Conjunctions I: FANBOYS

A conjunction brings things together in a sentence. Those things can be single words (nouns, verbs, modifiers, prepositions) or many words (phrases, clauses). Conjunctions live to link: Joining things is what they do. Without them, whenever our sentences contained lists of two or more, those things would pile up and collide.  There are three kinds of conjunctions: coordinating, subordinating, and correlative. Why?

Well, it’s really a matter of sentence engineering.  If we think of a sentence as a train, with an engine pulling a number of cars, then the conjunctions are the couplers, and different sorts of couplers are required for different sorts of cars. 

The most common conjunctions are coordinating conjunctions, often signified by the acronym FANBOYS (For And Nor But Or Yet So).  We use coordinating conjunctions to connect similar things—to couple cars of identical shape.

1. We connect independent clauses with FANBOYS:

  • Myrtle loves lasagna, but her husband hates all forms of pasta.

2. We connect pairs of things with FANBOYS:

  • Myrtle loves lasagna and hates cooking for her finicky husband.
  • Myrtle’s husband, Yoshi, craves only sushi and shrimp tempura.
  • Myrtle and Yoshi may be headed for divorce court.

3. We connect the last two things in a list of 3 or more with FANBOYS:

  • Myrtle’s children are Molly, Polly, and Raleigh.
  • Molly likes lasagna, Polly prefers sushi, and Raleigh is on a hunger strike.

The most commonly used coordinating conjunctions are BOAS:

  • Myrtle and Yoshi once loved each other, but food has driven a wedge between them.
  • They must agree to disagree or arrive at a compromise, so their family can remain intact.

Yet is not used as often as BOAS. Like but, yet conveys contrast, but yet is a bit stronger: the thing yet introduces is a bit surprising. Compare:

  • Yoshi loathes Italian food but tolerates the cuisine of Greece. [This is a simple contrast between food tolerated and food loathed.]
  • Yoshi loathes pasta yet loves gelato. [This doesn’t just contrast food loathed and loved: it also implies that the loving of gelato is surprising, given that Yoshi usually hates Italian food.]

Nor is a coordinating conjunction seldom used alone (it’s usually part of the correlative conjunction pair Neither…Nor).  Nor introduces a non-contrasting, negative thing.

  • Yoshi has never even tasted ravioli, nor has a drop of chianti passed his lips.

Finally, there’s forFor is a very common word indeed—when used as a preposition (Myrtle lives for her children. When they were infants, she rocked them for hours.) When used as a coordinating conjunction, it means “because.”

  • After six months of marriage therapy, Myrtle and Yoshi decided to go on a liquid diet, for years of resentment and hostility had made them both obese.

Note:  We almost always use because or since instead of for. If we used one of those subordinating conjunctions here instead of for, the structure of the entire sentence would change, since subordinating conjunctions create dependent (not independent) clauses.  We will discuss subordinating conjunctions in another lesson.

So:   When you want to link things of the same sort (freight cars of the same shape), use a coordinating conjunction.  There are only seven of these, and they’re all short. The FANBOYS you’ll use most often are and, but, or, and so


Written by Jincy Kornhauser at Pearson Tutor Services


Writing Skills writing tips, conjunctions

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