Self-Editing Tip #11: Coordinating and Correlative Conjunctions

2 Aug

Coordinating and Correlative Conjunctions–Coordinating conjunctions connect phrases or sentences within a single sentence as equal structures. And, but, nor, for, or, and yet are all excellent choices for employing this form for more complex sentences. Correlative conjunctions are similar, but come in pairs. Think of them as power conjunctions. Correlative conjunctions allow a writer to place emphases on certain parts of a sentence over others, compare and contrast ideas, and list in order of importance. However, the pairs must be used correctly to have these sentence-boosting effects. The following lists the prescribed pairs for correlative conjunctions: either-or; neither (and sometimes not)-nor; both-and; not only-but also. Without the proper conjunction in the pair, the first conjunction has no impact, and the sentence makes little sense.

Ex. Correct= The hotel boasts both four Michelin Stars at its in-house restaurant and a world-class spa.

Incorrect= The hotel boasts both four Michelin Stars at its in-house restaurant or a world-class spa.

To use correlative conjunctions for emphasis, consider which part of the sentence you naturally inflect when reading aloud. Write your sentence. Read it aloud. Does your voice inflect at the point you want attention drawn to most? No? Try moving the conjunction, or using a different conjunction.

Ex. The hotel boasts both four Michelin Stars at its in-house restaurant and a world-class spa.


The hotel both boasts four Michelin Stars at its in-house restaurant and touts a world-class spa.

By placing “both” before the object of the sentence, in the first example, the idea that the hotel boasts more than one extraordinary feature is emphasized. By placing “both” before the verb of the sentence, it suggests that the hotel does more than one thing. Each example is correct grammatically. On a semantic level, the placement of the correlative conjunctions can change the meaning of the entire sentence. It is up to the writer to decide what element of a sentence means the most.

To use correlative conjunctions to compare and contrast ideas use “both-and” (grouping/comparison); “neither-nor” (grouping/comparison); or “either-or” (choices/contrast) between related or opposing points to link ideas in an powerful way.

Ex. Characteristic of both cats and dogs (1) is an extraordinary sense of smell. Smell as they may, neither cats nor dogs (2) can hear as well as bats which use echolocation for sight, navigation, and hunting. It would be interesting to see which hunting method is most successful—either the dog’s sense of smell (3), useful for tracking, or the bat’s echolocation (3), useful for targeting prey.

(1) Comparison of cats and dogs

(2) Comparison of cats and dogs PLUS contrasting the pair with bats later in the sentence

(3) Giving choices between two contrasting options—dogs or bats

To use correlative conjunctions for listing, caution must be taken. When listing more than two items or ideas, “both-and” is not an option. “Both” suggests two of something. In fact, the only option for listing more than two of anything is “not only-but also.” Here, the words do not suggest any quantity or a choice between two options like “either-or” and “neither-nor” do.

Ex. Not only do we sell chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream—the classics—but also mint chip, butter pecan, crazy vanilla, orange sherbet, brownie bite, cake batter, and cotton candy.

There are obviously many ways to use coordinate conjunctions to combine two simple sentences or phrases into one complex and interesting sentence. However, equally important as matching conjunctions with their proper mate is matching sentence/phrase structures in parallel form. Just like coordinating conjunctions connect phrases as equals, the structure of those sentence parts must also be equals.

Ex. Correct= Everyone hid in the storm cellar as the rushing winds passed, tense and silent.=both adjectives

Incorrect= Your flat farmland and cutting down the trees provided the perfect landscape for a funnel cloud to form.= “Your flat farmland” is a noun phrase. “Cutting down the trees” is a gerund, a verb phrase where the verb is in the “ing” form.

In writing, the parts of a sentence need to be as consistent as your message. You wouldn’t want to contradict your main point, right? You probably also don’t want to negate your point at sentence-level with distracting disturbances in tone, rhythm, syntax, and clarity.

Coordinating and correlative conjunctions: Use them correctly, or don’t use them.

One Response to “Self-Editing Tip #11: Coordinating and Correlative Conjunctions”


  1. Pro-Tip: Punctuation Quick Fix | Red Ink Enthusiast™ - January 4, 2016

    […] conjunction after the comma? If no, it’s a comma splice. To fix it, your options are to add a conjunction after the comma, to change the comma to a semi-colon, or to replace the comma with a period and […]

Let's Talk!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: