What are Subordinating Conjunctions

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A conjunction is a word that connects two ideas, but what are subordinating conjunctions?

Sometimes a conjunction can combine two objects, as in burger and fries, but sometimes a conjunction connects two clauses. The subordinating conjunction turns one of the clauses into a dependent clause.

Since a dependent clause is a sentence fragment, the clause with the subordinating conjunction cannot be a separate sentence. Instead, it must be connected to an independent clause (a sentence is an independent clause). Let us explore this in more detail.

What is a Clause?

A clause is a group of words that contain both a subject and a verb. Here are two clauses. One is dependent and the other independent:

I will feed the cat.

Because the furball is hungry

Both clauses have a subject (I, furball) and a verb (feed, is). The first clause, because it can stand alone as a sentence, is an independent clause.

Since the second clause cannot stand alone as a sentence, it depends on another clause to complete the sentence. For that reason, this clause is referred to as a dependent clause.

What Subordinating Conjunctions Do

Subordinating conjunctions connect two clauses, and the subordinating conjunction causes the independent clause to become dependent.

A coordinating conjunction connects the two clauses in the previous sentence. Remove the “and,” and you have two sentences.

Subordinating conjunctions connect two clauses.

The subordinating conjunction causes the independent clause to become dependent.

Because a subordinating conjunction turns an independent clause into a dependent one, it needs to be connected to an independent clause.

In the above sentence, the word “because” is a subordinating conjunction, and you cannot break the sentence into two without creating a fragment:

Because a subordinating conjunction turns an independent clause into a dependent one.

When Do We Use Subordinating Conjunctions?

We use subordinating conjunctions when it is necessary to show the relationship between two ideas or events. Sometimes a subordinating conjunction is not needed.

I left my wallet behind, so I turned around and headed back to the restaurant.

The reader can infer why the speaker has turned around. But when it is harder for a reader to infer the relationship between ideas, a subordinating conjunction provides the context.

We went to the movie, and we ate.

In the previous sentence, two things happened, and we assume the speaker went to the movie first and then ate. But the subordinating conjunctions in the following sentences provide additional context.

We went to the movie before we ate.

We went to the movie after we ate.

We also use subordinate clauses for sentence variety. Imagine if every sentence stood by itself. Or, the author writes one sentence and connects another sentence to it. It creates a choppy effect, and the reader would think the writer needs to add subordinating conjunctions.

What are Some Common Subordination Conjunctions?

First, subordinating conjunctions are not coordinating conjunctions. These conjunctions connect two independent clauses. Some teachers call them by the acronym Fanboys:

For

And

Nor

But

Or

Yet

So

Common subordinating conjunctions include “because,” “since,” and “when.”

However, you can test if a word is a subordinating conjunction by placing it at the beginning of a short sentence. A short sentence might be

The frog jumped over the log.

Suppose you place a word before the sentence and need more information to complete the sentence. In that case, that word is a subordinating conjunction.

While the frog jumped over the log.

More information is needed to complete the thought, so while is a subordinating conjunction. A conjunctive adverb, however, suggests that the writer provided some info in the previous sentence:

Therefore, the frog jumped over the log.

Obviously, the previous sentence is missing some information. But the writer gave that info in the last sentence, so “therefore” is a conjunctive adverb.

Are Subordinating Conjunctions Adverbs?

Subordinating Conjunctions are adverbs if they answer questions such as “why,” “when,” or “how”? However, some words can be both subordinating conjunctions and prepositions. For example, “after” can introduce a subordinating clause:

After we saw the movie, we went to get ice cream.

But “after” can also be a preposition:

After the movie, we went to get ice cream.

In the first sentence, “after” introduces a clause with a subject and verb. “After the movie” does not have a subject or verb.

Can Subordinating Conjunctions Start a Sentence?

Sure they can. Because almost any part of speech can be placed at the beginning of a sentence, a subordinating conjunction can start a sentence. In fact, the previous sentence began with a subordinating conjunction.

Bottom Line

Subordinating conjunctions are important because they let you show the relationship between ideas. These conjunctions also give our sentences variety.

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