Coordinating Conjunctions (FANBOYS)
Coordinating conjunctions are the glue that binds together the pieces of a sentence. As their name implies, they conjoin elements—words, phrases, or clauses—that share a syntactic function.
English has seven coordinating conjunctions—for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so—which you can remember using the mnemonic FANBOYS:
- For indicates causation: “We left a day early, for the weather was not as clement as we had anticipated.”
- And juxtaposes two or more items without specifying a relationship between them: “neorealism, neoclassical realism, and realist constructivism”; “Mearsheimer subscribes to one approach, and Waltz argues for another.”
- Nor supplements a previously stated negation: “neither fish nor fowl”; “The results did not confirm the hypothesis, nor did they suggest any particular alternative explanation.”
- But signals a contradiction, caveat, or other tension: “this oft-cited but inaccurate account”; “There was no precedent for such an approach, but the team forged ahead.”
- Or indicates alternatives: “Give me liberty or give me death.”
- Yet, like "but," means “nevertheless” or “in spite of” something: “There was no precedent for such an approach, yet the team forged ahead.”
- So, like "for," indicates reasoning or causation; while "for" indicates the cause, "so" introduces the effect: “The weather was not as clement as we had anticipated, so we left a day early.”
Coordinating Conjunctions at the Clausal Level
Coordinating conjunctions link independent clauses. Which conjunction you use can significantly alter the meaning of the sentence. Take this example:
The workers had a few more weeks of renovations to complete, _____ the landlord said we could move in now.
Which conjunction would you choose?
- Depending on the context, “but” or “yet” could suggest that you think the landlord is doing you a favor: you get to move in despite the construction. Alternatively, “but” or “yet” could suggest that you disagree with the soundness of this idea.
- Choosing “so” will suggest that the landlord thinks a few weeks of living with construction is reasonable—that the work is far enough along to invite you to move in.
- “For” would make sense if the invitation to move in somehow caused an additional few weeks of renovations.
- “And” doesn't give us much information beyond the fact that these two events happened—the renovation and the invitation.
- The first clause isn’t a negative form, so “nor” would not apply here.
- Likewise, these two statements are not alternatives—both are happening—so “or” would also be unsuitable.
When writing a sentence that uses coordinating conjunctions, think carefully about the order of the clauses. Try plugging conjunctions into this version of the sentence and observe the different meanings and effects the new order creates:
The landlord said we could move in now, _____ the workers had a few more weeks of renovations to complete.
Finally, note that, whichever word best fits your meaning, joining independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction calls for a comma; see the FANBOYS commas page for more details.
More Information on Coordinating Conjunctions