A conjunction is a word which joins together any two words of the same part of speech, or any two words of the same part of speech, or any two phrase, or clauses, or even sentences. The word ‘conjunction’ comes from past participle, ‘coniunctus’, of the Latin ‘coniungo’ meaning ‘I join together’, a bit like a glue-happy Bob the Builder.
There are two general kinds of conjunctive words: co-ordinating conjunctions and subordinate conjunctions.
Co-ordinating conjunctions join elements that are grammatically the same: two or more words, two equivalent phrases, or two equivalent clauses. The most common co-ordinate conjunctions are: and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet.
- Hot and cold (two equal words joined in a phrase).
- I like going for a run and wearing Lycra (two equal phrases in a relative clause).
- I felt sleepy, but needed to stay awake and watch ‘Made in Chelsea’ (two equal clauses in a complete sentence).
A correlative conjunction is a special kind of co-ordinating conjunction. It connects equivalent elements, but it works in pairs of words: both, and; either, or; neither, nor; whether, or; not only, but also.
- He wants both riches and glory.
- Neither money nor power matters.
- Either she will go, or she will stay.
Subordinate conjunctions: While coordinating conjunctions connect equal grammatical elements, subordinate conjunctions introduce dependent or conditional clauses.
- Although she has money, she never buys us chocolate.
- Because he was late, he didn’t get a cookie.
- After this terrible movie is over, we will angrily throw popcorn at those who recommended it.
Words that operate as conjunctions can often be used in other ways, such as adverbs, prepositions, adjectives, or even pronouns.
- We have met before (before is an adverb).
- Before they leave, let us have dinner (before is a conjunction).
There are other words besides conjunctions that serve as connectors (or connectives) in sentences. The relative pronouns who and which are often so used.
- That is the fellow who was wearing the spiffing bow-tie.
- The dessert is strawberries, which give him a rash.
Some of the conjunctions work both as adverbs and conjunctions in the same sentence. This is often true of consequently, however, therefore, and nevertheless.
- He was ill; nevertheless he went to work to infect as many people as possible.
- She disliked her friend; consequently she threw a snowball at her face.
Polysyndeton is the use of several conjunctions in close succession, especially where some could otherwise be omitted (as in “he ran and jumped and laughed for joy”). The word “polysyndeton” comes from the Greek “poly-“, meaning “many,” and “syndeton”, meaning “bound together with”. It is a stylistic scheme used to achieve a variety of effects: it can increase the rhythm of prose, speed or slow its pace, convey solemnity or even ecstasy and childlike exuberance. Another common use of polysyndeton is to create a sense of being overwhelmed, or in fact directly overwhelm the audience by using conjunctions, rather than commas, leaving little room for a reader to breathe.
Polysyndeton is used extensively in the King James Bible. For example:
- And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark. Genesis 7:22-24
- Or if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be a carcass of an unclean beast, or a carcass of unclean cattle, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty. Leviticus 5:2.
- And Joshua, and all of Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had. Joshua 7.24.
Writers of modern times have also used the scheme:
- “I said, ‘Who killed him?’ and he said ‘I don’t know who killed him, but he’s dead all right,’ and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights or windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Key and she was right only she was full of water.” Ernest Hemingway, After the Storm
- “[The train] came boring out of the east like some ribald satellite of the coming sun howling and bellowing in the distance and the long light of the headlamp running though the tangled mesquite brakes and creating out of the night the endless fenceline down the dead straight right of way and sucking it back again wire and post mile on mile into the darkness after where the boilersmoke disbanded slowly along the faint new horizon and the sound came lagging and he stood still holding his hat in his hands in the passing ground shudder watching it till it was gone.” Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
- “Tender as my years may be,” said Caspian, “I believe I understand the slave trade from within quite as well as your Sufficiency. And I do not see that it brings into the islands meat or bread or beer or wine or timber or cabbages or books or instruments of music or horses or armour or anything else worth having.” C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader
- “There were frowzy fields, and cow-houses, and dunghills, and dust heaps, and ditches, and gardens, and summer-houses, and carpet-beating grounds, at the very door of the Railway. Little tumuli of oyster shells in the oyster season, and of lobster shells in the lobster season, and of broken crockery and faded cabbage leaves in all seasons, encroached upon its high places.” Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son
- Read the extract from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms
- Next, zoom in and analyse the different effects the conjunctions have on the reader.
“Maybe she would pretend that I was her boy that was killed and we would go in the front door and the porter would take off his cap and I would stop at the concierge’s desk and ask for the key and she would stand by the elevator and it would go up very slowly clicking at all the floors and then our floor and the boy would open the door and stand there and she would step out and we would walk down the hall and I would put the key in the door and open it and go in and then take down the telephone and ask them to send a bottle of capri bianca in a silver bucket full of ice and you would hear the ice against the pail coming down the corridor and the boy would knock and I would say leave it outside the door please.”