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Conjunctions III: Correlative Conjunctions

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. 

Correlative conjunctions, like coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS), join cars of similar shape, but they do it in pairs.  Correlative conjunctions include

  • Either…or…
  • Both…and…
  • Neither…nor…
  • As…as…
  • Not…but…
  • Whether…or…
  • Not only…but also…

Note that—with one exception—the second of each pair is a coordinating conjunction (or, and, nor, as, but).  As we’ve seen (in Conjunctions I), coordinating conjunctions do just fine all by themselves.  But when we use correlatives (either, both, neither, whether), the coordinating conjunctions are pressed into service.  You must not leave them out. 

In the following examples, correlatives can be seen to join freight cars of identical shape:

Yoshi put down his fork and said, “Either your so-called ‘Vermicelli Surprise’ goes, or I go.”[1]

Myrtle said, “Both you and your stupid uncooked mackerel can get lost.”[2]

Yoshi had neither anticipated this response nor given real thought to where he would go. [3] He was as stunned as he was chagrinned[4] by this sudden turn of events.

For her part, Myrtle was not triumphant, but suddenly despondent.[5]  Whether he left now or [he left] later,[6] she would miss him terribly—not only for his once unending patience, but also for the sweet way he whistled when he tied his shoes.[7]

When we use correlative conjunctions, we must make sure that the two things being joined (see footnotes below) are the same kind of thing—in other words, that we observe parallel structure. Note that the following example does show a parallel structure error:

Myrtle had not only played her cards unwisely, but also she had done so in front of the kids.

This sentence joins a predicate to an independent clause.  One way to revise:

Myrtle had not only played her cards unwisely but also done so in front of the kids.

Now both things being joined are predicates.

So: When you use correlative conjunctions, don’t forget the second one, and take care that the two things being joined are parallel.


Written by Jincy Kornhauser at Pearson Tutor Services

[1] 2 independent clauses

[2] 2 nouns/noun phrases

[3] 2 predicates

[4] 2 independent clauses

[5] 2 modifiers

[6] 2 dependent clauses

[7] 2 prepositional phrases

Writing Skills writing tips, conjunctions

Published on by kennethb.