#11 of 21: Writing: Subordination and Coordination

-or- Master the Comma and Master Writing


means just what you think it means: something is subordinate, or dependent, on something else.

You subordinate one sentence to another when you join two of them together to emphasize the ideas in one sentence or when you want to show a connection between two sentences. Whenever there is a relationship between two sentences that can be expressed with a subordinator, it is usually best to do it. Instead of talking about two sentences joined together, it is more customary to refer to one sentence consisting of two clauses.

Here is a list of common subordinating conjunctions (“subordinators”):

  • Time: when, whenever, after, as, before, once, since, till, until, now, that, while, as long as, as soon as.
  • Concession: though, although, even though, if, while.
  • Contingency: if, once
  • Condition: if, in case, as long as, unless provided that.
  • Reason: because, since, as long as.
  • Result: so, so that.
  • Comparison: as, just as, as if.
  • Contrast: while, whereas.

Subordinate clauses at the beginnings of the sentences are always set off by commas. When the subordinate clause is second, the meaning of the sentence determines whether commas are used. If the idea in the main clause depends on the idea in the subordinate clause, there is no comma (the default situation); otherwise, there is. Generally, there is a comma in front of even though and although, but not in front of because and if.


These shoes don’t fit. (A complete sentence; it can stand on its own. An independent clause.)
I won’t buy them. (Another complete sentence.)

Written as separate sentences, they sound a bit simple and choppy*; we should show the relationship between these two thoughts. Here’s one way:

Because these shoes don’t fit, I won’t buy them.

* Sometimes we may want choppy–for effect or if it is dialog that reflects a character or moment.

You can join two independent clauses (complete thoughts) five different ways:

  1. with a comma and a conjunction
  2. a semicolon
  3. a semicolon and a conjunctive adverb (adverbial conjunction)
  4. a colon
  5. a correlative conjunction.

We’ll look at the first way:

1. Comma and conjunction
Use a FANBOYS!… which is an acronym for the coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. If you have two independent clauses, use a comma and a FANBOYS to join them:

  • Our family has a cat, and we also have two dogs.
  • Sophie is a German Shepherd, but Grice is a mixed-breed.
  • Sophie is not much of a lady, nor is Grice a gentleman.

* Notice that the subject and verb are inverted after nor; this word requires a negative in the first clause.

NOTE: FANBOYS are also used between independent and dependent clauses… you just don’t use the comma:

  • Our family has a cat and two dogs.
  • Sophie is a German Shepherd but fetches like a Retriever.
  • Sophie is not much of a lady nor much of a guard dog.

As soon as you get subordination and coordination, you will begin to control the rhythm of your writing.

So… do a google search and a little study; then create some exercises for yourself.



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