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What is a conjunction?

What is a conjunction?
Conjunctions are joining words that link different parts of sentences. In our parents' guide we explain how children learn about conjunctions as part of the primary-school grammar curriculum.

What is a conjunction?

A conjunction is a type of connective ('connective' is an umbrella term for any word that connects bits of text together). Specifically, a conjunction connects two clauses in a sentence.

What are co-ordinating conjunctions?

We use co-ordinating or correlative conjunctions to join two parts of a sentence that are of equal weight or importance. 

All these words are co-ordinating conjunctions:

  • and
  • but
  • or
  • nor
  • yet
  • so 

Here are some example sentences using each one:

What are subordinating conjunctions?

A subordinating conjunction introduces a subordinate clause (a clause that does not make sense on its own), for example:

Subordinating conjunctions include:

  • after
  • because
  • if
  • since
  • though
  • unless
  • until
  • when
  • where
  • why

A conjunction does not have to appear in the middle of a sentence. Here are some examples of conjunctions at the start of sentences:

What are children taught about conjunctions at primary school?

In Year 1, children are taught to use the conjunction 'and' to join sentences. Often children of this age will write a series of simple sentences and teachers show them how to join them, for example:

In Year 2, children are encouraged to use co-ordinating and subordinating conjunctions (although the children would not be expected to use these terms). They are taught to subordinate using the conjunctions when, if, that, because. They are also taught to co-ordinate using the conjunctions and, or, but.

In Year 3, children are taught to use conjunctions such as when, before, after, while, so, because.

Children are then expected to continue to use co-ordinating and subordinating conjunctions throughout Key Stage 2. By Year 6 they should be able to tell you which conjunctions are co-ordinating and which are subordinating.

How is children's knowledge of conjunctions tested?

They may come across questions like these in the Year 6 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test:

I am cooking dinner tonight and we are all going to sit at the table to eat it.
I will be upset if anybody says they don't like the food.
Although I don't want to be bossy, it would be helpful if you could all clear away at the end.

In the sentence Brush your teeth before going to bed. the word before is a subordinating conjunction.

How do teachers teach children about conjunctions?

Teachers will use a number of methods to help children use more conjunctions in their writing:

  • Verbal games, where a teacher calls out a sentence starter and children put up their hands to offer different ways of finishing the sentence. For example, the teacher might say: 'I'd like to get a dog, but...' and the children finish it with various clauses, such as 'it might tear up the furniture', 'I'm not allowed', 'the vet's bills are too expensive', 'I don't like going for walks'.
  • When marking, teachers may underline two simple sentences and suggest the child rewrite them into one longer sentence using an appropriate conjunction.
  • A teacher may give children one sentence starter with a variety of conjunctions. Children are expected to complete each sentence in a different way, according to the conjunction, for example:
    • The cat yowled loudly because...
    • The cat yowled loudly until...
    • The cat yowled loudly but...
    • The cat yowled loudly and...
    • The cat yowled loudly when...
This exercise helps children to understand how conjunctions are used for different purposes.
  • Another exercise is to ask children to try to find sentences containing particular conjunctions in their reading book. They may then be asked to write out each sentence, highlighting the two clauses and the conjunction. They could then be asked whether they think each one is co-ordinating or subordinating.
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