Conjunctions in English – Subordinating Conjunctions

What is a subordinating conjunction?

Subordinating conjunctions are used to create complex sentences containing one independent clause, or main clause, and one dependent, or subordinate, clause. The subordinating conjunction does two things: it introduces and subordinatesthe dependent clause (telling the reader that it’s less important than the independent clause), and it explains what relationship it has to the independent clause. Consider the following example:

I went to the supermarket. We were out of milk.

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Both of these sentences can stand on their own. However, there is no clear relationship between them. Instead, we can join them together with a subordinating conjunction, which would sound more natural:

I went to the supermarket since we were out of milk.”

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Functions of subordinating conjunctions

As mentioned, one of the jobs of a subordinating conjunction is to establish the relationship between the two clauses—which conjunction we use depends on the nature of that relationship. Below are some of the most common subordinating conjunctions and their functions:

CauseComparison / ConcessionConditionPlaceReasonTime
AsJust (as)Even ifWhereIn order thatAfter
BecauseAlthoughIfWhereverSo thatBefore
sinceEven thoughAs long asAs soon as
ThoughIn caseOnce
WhereasProvided thatUntil
WhileProvidingWhen
Whenever
While
Functions of subordinating conjunctions

Cause – Subordinating Conjunctions

We use: as, because, and since interchangeably to state the cause of something.
For example:

  • The project was successful, as you all worked very hard.
  • We played chess all evening, as we had nothing better to do.
  • I love David’s work, because he uses color so brilliantly.
  • The project was successful because you all worked very hard.
  • Since you say so, I will believe it.
  • Mary has danced since she was five.

Comparison and concession

Similarities

We can use as to state that two ideas are similar. We can also use just as to add extra emphasis to this statement.
For example:

  • It’s pouring rain, as I thought it would.
  • She was late again, just as we expected.
  • He didn’t turn up, as you told me he wouldn’t.

Expressing contrasts and concessions

While and whereas both express contrasts.

While and whereas can be used interchangeably,

but whereas is often considered more formal. Note also that, like with (just) as above, we use a comma between the clauses even though these subordinating conjunctions are not in the initial position.

We use although, though, and even though to say that something occurred in spite of something else. Though and although are interchangeable, while even though adds extra emphasis.

 For example:

  • My brother worked really hard, while I didn’t make much of an effort.
  • It happened, while I was away.
  • I can’t stand watching tennis, whereas I love watching basketball.
  • Adrian is tall and blond, whereas his brother is short and has dark hair.
  • I went to that restaurant although I was told it wasn’t very good.
  • Although the kitchen is small, it is well designed.
  • Although they gave her the best treatment, they could not save her.
  • We went out although it was snowing.
  • Though expensive, the watch was very good.
  • Though he worked hard, he couldn’t win the first prize.
  • Though he was ill he attended the meeting.
  • Even though I am quite small, I can swim well.
  • I went to that restaurant even though I was told it wasn’t very good.

Condition – Subordinating Conjunctions

We use the subordinating conjunctions even if, if, as long as, in case, provided that, and providing when referring to a hypothetical situation.

If is the most common conjunction for hypothetical sentences. We use it when one action is required for another to occur.

For example:

  • I will buy you a pizza if you help me move my furniture.
  • You should buy a new TV if you get a bigger apartment.
  • He looks as if he were on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
  • If you drop the glass, it will break.
  • If you are determined you can succeed in whatever you do.
  • I will do it only if you pay me.

As long as, provided, provided that, and providing all mean the same as if, but they emphasize the requirement of the conditional action. We can use them interchangeably:

  • I will buy you a pizza as long as you help me move my furniture.”
  • We can say: I will buy you a pizza provided you help me move my furniture.”
  • You should buy a new TV provided that you get a bigger apartment.
  • We can say: You should buy a new TV providing you get a bigger apartment.

We use even if when an outcome will occur despite a hypothetical action. For example:

  • I will buy you a pizza even if you don’t help me move my furniture.
    •  (I will buy the pizza anyway.)
  • He’s going to pass his test even if he doesn’t study.
    • (He will pass despite not studying.)
  • I wouldn’t do it even if it were possible.
  • I will go even if he forbids me.
  • I have my umbrella with me in case it rains.

Place

When the dependent clause is related to a place, we use where and wherever, but they are not interchangeable.

For most situations, we use where, as in:

  • He lives where it’s always sunny.  We can say: He lives in a place that is sunny.
  • Can we go where it’s a little quieter? We can say:  (Can we go to a place that is quieter?)
  • This is the place where the accident occurred.
  • Go where you like.
  • The accident occurred where the four roads meet.

Reason

We use in order that, so that, and so to give a reason. They are interchangeable in meaning, but differ in formality. Compare the following sentences:

  • Our boss asked us to take detailed notes in order that nothing would be forgotten. (formal)
  • Our boss asked us to take detailed notes so that nothing would be forgotten.” (neutral)
  • Our boss asked us to take detailed notes so nothing would be forgotten.” (less formal)
  • He wore a coat, so that, he may not catch cold.
  • He wore a coat, in order that, he may not catch cold.
  • He studied well so he passed the examination.
  • I’m hungry, so I’m going to get something to eat.

Time

Previously

To state that the action of the independent clause occurred first, we use before. For example:

  • I went shopping before I came home.” (I went shopping first.)
  • He won first prize in a spelling bee before starting fifth grade.” (He won the prize first.)
  • You have to finish it before you can leave.
  • Please meet me before you go.
  • The train cannot start before the signal is given.
  • They say a silent prayer before they start the class.

Concurrently

When two actions occur at the same time, there are several subordinating conjunctions we can use, but each has a slightly different meaning. If we are not adding any particular emphasis, we use when:

  • I was sleeping when the phone rang.
  • I will come and see you when I can.
  • I will be relieved when it is finished.
  • I will be ready when you arrive.
  • People ran for shelter, whenthe storm broke out.
  • His wife fainted when she heard the news.
  • I saw my brother when he was out with his friends.

However, to emphasize that two actions occurred (or will occur) at exactly the same time, or in rapid succession, we use once or as soon as:

  • Please clean your room once you get home.
  • Once you learn it, you never forget.
  • Call me back as soon as you can.”
  • I will call you as soon as I have the information.
  • As soon as I finish this book, I will begin another.

Subsequently

When the action of the independent clause happens second in a series of actions, we use after:

  • I went shopping after I finished work.” (I finished work first, then went shopping.)
  • He won first prize in a spelling bee after he started fifth grade.” (He started fifth grade first, then won a spelling bee.)
  • They arrived after we had left.

Up to a certain time

To state that one action stops when another one begins, we use until. For example:

  • He ran track until he moved here.” (He stopped running track when he moved here.)
  • You can borrow my jacket until I need it.” (You must stop using it when I need it.)
  • Will you wait here until I come?
  • She waited in the park until her friends arrived.
  • Will you please wait here until  I come back?

Any time or every time

Finally, we use whenever to state that the time doesn’t matter, or that two actions always happen together. For example:

  • Call me whenever you get home. You can say: (Call me when you get home, but I don’t mind when that is.)
  • I will come and see you whenever I can.
  • I injure myself  whenever I play football.
  • She cries whenever she sees a sad movie.” (She cries every time she sees a sad movie.)
  • Whenever we go abroad, we take as many pictures as possible.

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