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Subordinating Conjunctions: Types and How They Are Used

Which of the following sentences sound better to you?

  • Jeff sighed. He saw that his report card didn’t contain any A’s.

  • Jeff sighed because he saw that his report card didn’t contain any A’s.

Most likely you prefer the second sentence. But why is this the case? After all, there’s only one difference between the sentences—the word because. It’s this word and others like it, known as subordinating conjunctions, that give readers crucial background information.

Without words like because, since, and while, the sentences you read would feel disjointed. In the first example, “Jeff sighed. He saw that his report card didn’t contain any A’s,” the audience can’t understand why Jeff sighed. Did he sigh because there were no A’s on his report card? It’s implied, but it is not 100% clear to the reader. Yet, when you join the two clauses with the right word, everyone can see the relationship between the two individual ideas.

The right words help clarify your meaning as a writer or speaker, so that your audience doesn’t get lost. When you can lead people on a journey through your choice of language while writing and speaking, you’re more likely to keep a captive audience. To do so, it’s important to understand what a subordinating conjunction, or joining word, is and when to use one in your writing.

Before you continue with this article, it’s important to have a grasp of joining word fundamentals. This informative site gives all the background information you need. Return here once you have the basics down.

What is a subordinating conjunction? See if you can determine which word joins two clauses in the sentences below.

  • Joshua sneezed after a fly flew up his nose.
  • Susan flinched although the water balloon exploded 20 feet away.
  • They nearly stumbled when the earthquake shook the building.
  • He accidentally went to sleep before studying for his exam.
  • Whenever Lucy had her GPS device, she always knew her way around Los Angeles.

How did you do at identifying the joining words? In order from first to last, the joining words in the sentences above are after, although, when, before, and whenever. These words show us a natural progression. You’ll always find similar words before dependent clauses in a sentence. Not sure what this means exactly? Before you learn about independent and dependent clauses, let’s go over some basic definitions.

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Here is a Subordinating Conjunction Definition

Some sentences are simple. To be “simple” just means that a sentence expresses a complete thought. To do this, a sentence will explain an action using a verb and include a noun that completes the action. Here are some examples of simple sentences:

  • The dog chased the ball.
  • Linda went to the store.

However, not all sentences are simple. Some contain two complete thoughts, known as independent clauses. For instance, you have:

  • The dog chased the ball and enjoyed playing fetch.
  • Linda went to the store, for she ran out of almond milk.

In these examples there are two related things occurring; each could make their own individual sentences. However, joining words connect the clauses and help the audience understand the big picture. Click site to learn about these two sentence forms.

Additionally, there are times when sentences are even more complicated than the examples above. To form complex sentences, you connect clauses with subordinating conjunctions. Here’s a list of the most common joining words in this category:

After Although As As far as
As if As soon as As though Because
Before Even if Even though Except
How If In case (that) In order (that)
In that Now that Once Provided that
Rather than Since So that Than
That Though Unless Until
When Whenever Where Whereas
Wherever Whether While

Creating the Complex Sentence

What is a subordinate conjunction? You already know that a sentence contains at least one verb and one noun to create a complete thought. Sometimes a sentence also contains an incomplete thought, in addition to a complete one. To make this work, you use subordinating conjunctions to link the phrases together.

If a clause includes any of the joining words from the list above, then it’s known as a dependent clause. Dependent clauses do not contain a complete thought by themselves and require more information. You can even turn independent clauses into dependent clauses by adding a subordinating conjunction. Here are some of the dependent clauses from previous examples:

  • After a fly flew up his nose…
  • Although the water balloon exploded far away…
  • When the earthquake shook the building…
  • Before studying for his exam…

Are you already a master of joining words? Here are some helpful articles on APA format and more styles of formatting academic papers. Check it out!

What is a Subordinating Conjunction? Breaking Down Complex Sentences

There are really two main purposes for this type of joining word. First, subordinating conjunctions help you transition between independent and dependent clauses. They help show the order something happens in and describes the cause and effect of an action.

  • I will easily pass my law exam after a few more hours of studying.
  • Stewart decided to watch reality television programs before he worked on his homework assignment.

Second, subordinating conjunctions show your audience which of two clauses are most important. For the greatest impact in your writing, you want your main idea to arrive last in a sentence. This will put emphasis on the main idea in your reader’s mind. Even though this makes for more impactful writing, it is possible to order the independent and dependent clauses in a sentence in any order.

Which sentence puts emphasis in the right place?

This:

  • Teresa had a horrible allergic reaction after she ate a peanut butter sandwich.

Or this:

  • After Teresa ate a peanut butter sandwich, she had a horrible allergic reaction.

What’s the Proper Structure of Including Subordinating Conjunctions in Complex Sentences?

There are several ways to add a subordinating conjunction to sentences. The most popular formats are:

Equation #1

Main clause + subordinating conjunction containing clause.

  • I shuffled the deck of cards before dealing out the cards.

Equation #2

Independent clause + comma + main clause.

  • Whenever she raises her hand, her dog Lila plays dead.

Now you try! See if you can write down a few sentences containing a dependent and independent clause. Once you’ve gotten some practice, try rewriting the sentence, using a different sentence structure.