Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions connect dependent clauses to independent clauses (a.k.a. subordinate clauses, hence the super-clever name).

When you hear the word "subordinate" you usually think of a little toady or yes-man—somebody that butters up the boss and laughs way too hard at all of her jokes.

Don't let this influence your opinion of subordinating conjunctions. These grammatical pieces are divas. Subordinating conjunctions are the star of any complex sentence.

In a complex sentence, you'll find at least two ideas, one of which is more important than the other. You might think of the more important idea as the main event, and you'll find it in the independent clause.

The dependent clause conveys less important information, and it depends on the independent clause in order to make sense. That's where the subordinating conjunction comes in. It reduces the importance of the dependent clause, so the independent clause can be highlighted. Let's look at an example:

Jay's dorm burned down because somebody left a bacon-scented candle unattended.

Sure, it's interesting that they make bacon-scented candles, which is part of what the dependent clause tells us in this sentence. But the main event here is that Jay's dorm burned to the ground, which is what's relayed in the independent clause.

By connecting those two clauses with the subordinating conjunction because, we get a complex sentence that forms a more complete picture of why candles are a major no-no in most dormitories… even if they smell delicious.

But wait, there's more!

You can remember some of the most popular subordinating conjunctions by harnessing the power of AWUBIS. That's right, AWUBIS. While it may sound like a mythical wolf whose howls can unleash the power of a thousand suns, it's actually a pretty sweet memory device to help you harness the power of subordinating conjunctions:

After

As

Although

While

When

Where

Until

Before

Because

If

Since

One last thing… because we love talking about commas. As a general rule: if the dependent clause comes before the independent clause, use a comma—otherwise you'll end up with a run-on sentence. If the independent clause is first, don't use a comma. Check out the examples for more.

List of examples:


- after
- as
- although
- while
- when
- where
- until
- before
- because
- if
- since
- once
- that
- unless
- whenever
- whether
- why
- even though
- rather than
- though
- whereas

P.S. Please only use one subordinating conjunction at a time. Otherwise you end up with something like this:

Because she wanted to count the number of stars in the sky even though she knew it was impossible.

Oof.

Examples

"Until ferrets are granted driver's licenses, I'm going to have to keep driving Squiggles to the veterinarian's office."

In this example, the subordinating conjunction until is used to link the two ideas expressed in the sentence. We've got the dependent clause Until ferrets are granted driver's licenses, and the independent clause that follows it. Did you notice that the dependent clause and independent clause are linked with a comma? Excellent.

"My little sister annoys me because she wants to do everything that I do."

Listen, she might irritate you now because she does things like borrow your favorite sweater without asking, but one day you'll be grateful for her. And you'll also be grateful that you know that because is a subordinating conjunction. In this example, the independent clause My little sister annoys me is joined to the dependent clause because she wants to do everything that I do.

"Tacos seemed to rain down from the heavens after the tortilla truck crashed into the chorizo factory."

We've had dreams of this situation. In this tasty example, after is a subordinating conjunction that links the independent clause tacos seemed to rain down from the heavens with the dependent clause after the tortilla truck crashed into the chorizo factory.

The fact that tacos were falling out of the sky is the main event here; that's why it's expressed in the independent clause. The fact that the taco storm started when a truck crashed into a factory, while awesome, is rendered less important because it begins with the subordinating conjunction.

Common mistakes

 

Some teacher from your past probably drilled you about not starting sentences with because until you started having nightmares about it. We're here to tell you that it's totally fine. Take that, Teacher from Your Past.

You just need to be careful that, in formal writing (like essays for school), you don't end up writing a fragment like Because he hated to shiver.

This clause is dependent since it starts with because, a subordinating conjunction—that means that on its own, it's a fragment. Other examples of this part of speech include when, unless, although, and the list goes on.

As long as you follow up the dependent clause with a main clause, your sentence will be complete. Oh, and don't forget your comma.

Example:

"Because Julian left his mittens on the train."

OR

"Because he believed the water was too cold upstream, Sammy the salmon did not want to migrate with the rest of the school."

Which sentence that starts with because has the right stuff? It's the second one. In that example, a comma is used to link the dependent clause Because he believed the water was too cold upstream to the independent clause that follows it, thus making a real humdinger of a complete sentence.

The first sentence is incorrect because it's a dependent clause left all by its lonesome. On its own like that, it's a fragment. If the sentence that came before it was "Why?" it might make more sense—but leave those kinds of fragments to Shmoop and informal emails.

 

 

The Union vs. The Confederacy. Vampires vs. werewolves. Harry Potter vs. Voldemort. These are all ferocious battles.

But none of them compare to the war that grammarians are raging over: the use of like as a conjunction.

Okay, maybe we're exaggerating. (Maybe.)

But seriously—grammarians can be brutal. They may not fight with bayonets or magic wands, but their words and expert grip on grammar can pierce straight through the heart.

Here's the deal. In common usage, like is now used as a conjunction. For example, "You look like you've seen a ghost." However, the word like traditionally has been known as a preposition that means similar to. The very definition of a preposition is that is has a noun or noun phrase as its object. In the sentence "You look like you've seen a ghost," what follows like is not a noun or noun phrase—it's an entire independent clause, "you've seen a ghost." Sounds like the behavior of a conjunction, no?

The word as is the conjunction to be used here. The previous sentence is traditionally written as: "You look as if/though you've seen a ghost."

If you're going with common usage, don't sweat it. But if you're taking a grammar quiz (like the one we have in this module), only use like when it's followed by a noun or noun phrase. Otherwise, use as if or as though to connect your clauses, please.

Example:

"For some odd reason, Jacob likes to celebrate his half birthday like it was his real birthday."

OR

"The candle made the stuffy library smell like a fresh Hawaiian breeze after a tropical rainstorm."

Can you, like, totally tell which sentence uses like correctly? It's the second one. Here's why: You can plug like into the second sentence because it would complete the prepositional phrase. In the first sentence, the words following like constitute a clause, meaning there's a subject and a verb.

Since conjunctions are all about connecting clauses, the phrase as though, a form of the conjunction as, is more appropriate there.