What Are Subordinating Conjunctions? Definition, List of Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunction definition: A type of conjunction that introduces a subordinate clause. The use of a subordinate clause creates a complex sentence.

What is a Subordinating Conjunction?

Subordinating conjunction meaning: Subordinating conjunctions, also called subordinate conjunctions, are used when linking subordinate clauses to independent clauses.

A subordinate clause is one that cannot stand alone as a sentence. These clauses are also called dependent clauses because they depend on an independent clause to create a complete sentence.

Example,

  • After I go to the movies.

This is a dependent clause. It is introduced by the subordinate conjunction after, and the clause itself cannot stand alone on its own. It must have an independent clause attached to it to make sense.

  • After I go to the movies, I will eat dinner.

Now that we have attached the dependent clause “After I go to the movies.” to the independent clause, “I will eat dinner.”, the sentence makes sense.

Subordinating Conjunctions List

There are quite a few subordinating conjunctions, many more than correlative conjunctions (more on that below).

Here is a brief list of subordinating conjunctions that you are likely to see and use.

List of Subordinating Conjunctions:

  • After
  • Although
  • As
  • Because
  • Before
  • Even if
  • Even though
  • If
  • In order that
  • Once
  • Provided that
  • Rather than
  • Since
  • So that
  • Than
  • That
  • Though
  • Unless
  • Until when
  • Whenever
  • Where
  • Whereas
  • Wherever
  • Whether
  • While
  • Why

What Does a Subordinating Conjunction Do?

subordinating-conjunctions-examplesSubordinating conjunctions serve several functions in our writing.

First, subordinating conjunctions help to join the subordinate clause to the main clause in a sentence.

  • Janet needs to clean her room if she wants to go to the movies.
    • Janet needs to clean her room = main clause
    • If = subordinating conjunction
    • If she wants to go to the movies = subordinate clause

In this example, the subordinating clause provides the necessary transition between the two ideas in the sentence.

Second, They help to form complex sentences by establishing a time, a place, a reason, a condition, a concession, or a comparison for the main clause.

  • While you may enjoy playing video games, they are negatively affecting your grades.
    • While = subordinate conjunction
    • While you may enjoy playing video games = subordinate clause
    • They are negatively affecting your grades = main clause

In the above example, the subordinate clause helps to form a complex sentence to establish a cause and effect comparison between two activities.

Third, subordinating conjunctions also reduce the importance of one of the clauses by drawing more attention to the other more important main clause.

  • Although we are staying home for the holidays, I have a full week of fun activities planned.
    • Although = subordinate conjunction
    • Although we are staying home for the holidays = subordinate clause
    • I have a full week of fun activities planned = main clause

Here we want to draw more attention to the “fun activities,” so by adding the subordinate conjunction, “although,” we can achieve that effect.

How to Punctuate Complex Sentences

which is a subordinating conjunctionA complex sentence is one that contains both an independent and dependent clause.

There are two different ways to construct a complex sentence, depending on the location of your independent and dependent clauses.

Number 1: If the subordinate clause comes first, you must add a comma before the main clause to act as the balance between the two.

  • Even though I like to travel, my finances limit this hobby to one vacation a year.
    • Even though = subordinating conjunction
    • Even though I like to travel = subordinate clause
    • My finances limit this hobby to one vacation a year = main clause

In this example, we place a comma after the subordinate clause and before the main clause. This creates a balance between the two.

Number 2: If the subordinate clause comes second, no additional punctuation is needed between the two clauses.

  • Justine likes to listen to music while she mows the lawn.
    • Justine likes to listen to music = main clause
    • While = subordinating conjunction
    • While she mows the lawn = subordinate clause

As you can see, in this example, we don’t have any pieces of punctuation in the sentence. Just a period at the end.

Subordinate Clause with Relative Clauses

Now, let’s look at relative clauses.

Relative clauses use words like who, whom, whose, that, etc., to make a general description given in the main clause more specific.

There are two ways to punctuate these sentences.

With Essential Relative Clauses: If the information in your relative clause clarifies a general noun, it is deemed to be essential to the sentence and requires no additional punctuation.

  • Go talk to the man who is wearing the red jacket.
    • Go talk to the man = main clause
    • Who = relative pronoun
    • Who is wearing the red jacket = essential relative clause

In this example, man is a common, generic term, so we need the extra information provided by the relative clause. No comma needed.

With Nonessential Relative Clauses: If the information in your relative clause refers to an already specific noun, it is considered a nonessential relative clause and a comma must follow the main clause.

  • Go talk to Jacob, who is wearing the red jacket.
    • Go talk to Jacob = main clause
    • Who = relative pronoun
    • Who is wearing the red jacket = nonessential relative clause

Jacob is a specific noun, so a comma must offset the nonessential relative clause.

Subordinating Conjunctions vs. Coordinating Conjunctions

is is a subordinating conjunctionWhile both subordinating and coordinating conjunctions join together clauses, the former joins a dependent to an independent clause and the latter joins two independent clauses.

Subordinating conjunctions join a dependent to an independent clause:

  • As I watched the baby sleep, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy.
    • As = subordinating conjunction
    • As I watched the baby sleep = dependent clause
    • I felt an overwhelming sense of joy = independent clause

Coordinating conjunctions join two independent clauses.

  • Christina went to the grocery story, but she forgot to buy milk.
    • Christina went to the grocery = independent clause
    • But = coordinating conjunction
    • She forgot to buy milk = independent clause

Summary: What are Subordinating Conjunctions?

Define subordinating conjunction: To review, subordinating conjunctions are conjunctions used at the beginning of a dependent clause. Dependent clauses combine with independent clauses to make complex sentences.

Try adding subordinate conjunctions to your writing in order to vary the sentence structure and make it more appealing to the reader.

One last example:

  • Although it is easier only to use simple sentences in your writing only, complex sentences add variety and style to your work.
    • Although = subordinating conjunction
    • Although it is easier only to use simple sentences in your writing only = subordinate clause
    • Complex sentences add variety and style to your work = main clause