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Correlative Conjunctions: Joining Phrases Together

Do you often feel as if your writing can be improved? Many students and business people would like to increase their writing skills. The best way to do it is by learning how to use joining words properly; more specifically by learning a particular group of words called correlative conjunctions. But, what are correlative conjunctions, and why will understanding them help you become a better writer?

Let’s look at correlative conjunctions and discuss how they function. You may also fill out the correlative conjunctions worksheet at the end for practice. The purpose of this article and the exercises below is to explain how using conjunctions the right way will help you become a better academic and business writer.

Before you begin, make sure that you have a basic understanding of conjunctions, or “joining words.” This article assumes that you have a foundation of coordinates and subordinates. Do you have any questions about these word groups? If so, see this page. It’ll give you the foundation you need in order to understand the correlative conjunction definition. Once you’re ready, return to this article and continue on to our section on “What are correlative conjunctions?”

What Are Correlative Conjunctions?: Understanding a Correlative Conjunctions Definition

At this point, you understand the basics of joining words and how they take two separate ideas and bring them together. Coordinators are easy for you to understand, especially since you use them so often in writing. You’re also confident about subordinating words and how they connect independent and dependent clauses together. Now, the next category of joining words to learn is the correlative conjunction. So, what are these joining words and how are they helpful? Let’s begin with a correlative conjunctions definition.

Correlative conjunctions are similar to coordinators, in the sense that both word groups connect two main ideas in a sentence. The difference between these groups lies in how each one functions. Whereas coordinators connect words, clauses, and sentences using words like for, and, or but, the correlative conjunction isn’t a single word and they don’t work alone. Instead, you’ll find that these joining words function best in a sentence when in pairs.

Another small rule when talking about what is a correlative conjunction definition, is that commas usually aren’t added. You’ll sometimes see a comma added for clarity or emphasis, but otherwise, leave it out. 

  • The dog is not only cute but also smart.

What is a correlative conjunction without a comma? Easy-to-read writing. Remember this when developing a correlative conjunction definition.

These words also aren’t found in the same part of a sentence, like other joining words are. The pairs of words instead appear throughout a sentence, wrapping themselves around nouns, verbs, and phrases. Correlative conjunctions get their name from the fact that each group of words works together (“co-”) to relate parts of a sentence together.

Think you can tell what are correlative conjunctions now? The correlative conjunction definition can be better shown with a few examples. Be sure to check those out before getting to the correlative conjunctions worksheet. 

Already understand everything there is to know about joining words? See this guide to MLA format or more styles of creating citations instead!

Examples of Connecting Word Pairs

Some common examples include either/or, rather/than, and not only/but also. Here are some example sentences showing how each pair works:


  • This town’s not big enough for the both of us. Either you ride out on your horse, or a heap of trouble’s coming your way.


  • He’d rather eat a triple-scoop of vanilla ice cream than follow his boring diet plan.

Not Only/But Also

  • I’ll take both please. Not only the gaming PC, but also the handheld device.


  • She eats neither broccoli nor kale. 

Neither/nor are special cases as in where they are correlative conjunctions that act as negative words. Meaning in the example, she can’t have the word ‘does not’ after it because both neither and nor already gives a negating meaning to the verb being done. 

Study these to answer in your own words a correlative conjunctions definition and prepare for the correlative conjunction worksheet.

As you can see, there are many ways to join things in a sentence using joining words. Each part may seem simple enough to use. However, it is possible to use a correlative conjunction incorrectly in a sentence. To make sure that your sentences are always correct, here are some helpful rules to remember what is a correlative conjunction.

First Rule: Keep Verbs and Subjects in Agreement

Wondering about the correlative conjunction and verb agreement? Subject verb agreement is already fairly difficult. This is even more true when you use a joining word to connect multiple subjects or objects. One simple rules that will ensure you never get agreement wrong is to always have your second subject agree with the verb which follows it. For example:

  • In the summer, either Tom or the twins watch the children.
  • In the summer, either the twins or Tom watches the children.

What are correlative conjunctions and why does subject agreement matter? Let’s check out the next rule in the correlative conjunctions definition.

Second Rule: Keep Antecedents and Pronouns in Agreement

Whenever you use joining words, your pronouns must agree in the same way that your verbs agree in a sentence. You use pronouns whenever you link two antecedents in a sentence. Whenever you do, just remember that the second antecedent must match the pronoun.


  • Neither Jane nor Bill explained his reason for getting pulled out of class.
  • Neither Bill nor Jane explained her reason for getting pulled out of class.


  • Neither Jane nor Bill explained her reason for getting pulled out of class.

This mistake is a lot more subtle, so it can easily be overlooked. Remember the rule of having your final pronoun match with the final antecedent, and your sentence will always be in agreement.

As you get closer to answering what is a correlative conjunction, don’t forget to take note of the examples for the correlative conjunctions worksheet. Do you need a quick break before moving on to the next rule? Check out this helpful paper checker. It’ll catch grammar errors in your writing. If your paper also needs a bibliography, check out the MLA and APA format tools on Citation Machine.

Third, Keep Your Sentences Parallel

Now that you understand the two most common mistakes, let’s move onto the final rule to remember for a correlative conjunction definition. The third mistake people make when using joining words is to forget about parallelism within their sentences.

What is a correlative conjunction definition regarding parallelism? Are you unsure what it means for your sentence to be “parallel?” Parallel describes the sentence structure required whenever you use correlative conjunctions. What parallelism does is keep the grammatical units equal throughout a sentence that contains connecting words. This means that you need the same parts of speech or the same grammatical structure whenever you use two-part joining words. Here are some examples:

Correct:  Both the dog and the cat are being lazy today.

Incorrect:  Both the dog and cat are being lazy today.

Correct:  Ted is not only a fun date, but also a talented cook.

Incorrect:  Ted is not only a fun date, but he also is talented at cooking.

Keeping the parallel structure is important when using correlative conjunctions because the sentence fragments must always be equal. Because of this fact, these joining words function similar to coordinators, which also connect independent clauses together. Therefore, you want subjects, objects, adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and clauses to be parallel whenever using joining words. Use this dual join word list to help with a parallel correlative conjunction.

Dual Joining Word List

  • As/As
  • Both/And
  • Between/And
  • Either/Or
  • From/To
  • Hardly/When
  • If/Then
  • No Sooner/Than
  • Neither/Nor
  • Just As/So
  • Rather/Than
  • Not/But
  • Not Only/But Also
  • Such/As
  • Scarcely/When
  • Such/That
  • So/That
  • What With/And
  • Whether/Or

Interested in seeing how to use these joining words? Take a look at this further reading for extra examples to understand what are correlative conjunctions.

Correlative Conjunctions Worksheet

Do you want to learn how to use a correlative conjunction properly? Practice with the following exercises. If you prefer, feel free to print out this correlative conjunction worksheet or copy it onto a piece of paper.

Select joining words that fit into the gaps:

  1. ___ Tommy ___ Stephen prefer superhero films over horror films.
  2. ___ she doesn’t get up for volleyball practice __ her coach might not let her play in the finals.
  3. He’d __ wash the dishes __ clean the bathroom!
  4. Her hair is __ long __ flowing.
  5. He’s _ intelligent, _ charming.

Answer the following questions in your own words and use examples.

  1. What is a correlative conjunction and what are the correlative conjunction rules mentioned in the guide?
  2. In your own words, write a correlative conjunctions definition.
  3. What other parts of speech are commonly confused with a correlative conjunction?

Go over answers with a friend or peer and see if their answers are any different. After you’ve completed the correlative conjunctions worksheet, don’t forget to check out the links to learn more about what are correlative conjunctions and maybe add more info to your correlative conjunction definition.

Published March 7, 2019. Updated May 22, 2020.

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