Coordinating conjunctions join two or more words, phrases, or independent clauses that are more or less grammatically equal. There are seven coordinating conjunctions that are easy to remember with the popular FANBOYS acronym.
For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So
You may see lists including a few other words or excluding one or two of these, but these seven are the most generally agreed upon.
And is used for adding things together. It joins words, phrases, and independent clauses. In conjunction with commas, and may even be used to join more than two words or phrases into a list.
Alex bought a book, and Ellen bought a new doll.
And joins two independent clauses to make a compound sentence.
My boss and his brother went skiing last week.
This time and is joining two subjects to show that boss and brother both perform the action of the sentence.
Randy collects cards, books, and games.
In this sentence, and joins cards, books, and games to give the sentence a total of three direct objects.
The neighbors’ dog is big and ugly.
Teddy ate quickly and ran home.
And may also be used to join two or more verbs to show that the subject is performing more than one action.
But functions similarly to and, but it presents a contrast between the words, phrases, and clauses that it joins.
Andrew likes green, but Frank likes blue.
But not only joins the clauses but also draws attention to the fact that they present different or contrasting information.
The board bent but did not break.
Here but joins the verbs bent and did break. Since but shows the contrast between the two actions, the sentence could be rewritten to say, “Although the board bent, it did not break.”
The neighbors’ dog is big but gentle.
As with the previous example, we could demonstrate the contrast indicated by but by rewriting the sentence as, “Although the neighbors’ dog is big, it is also gentle,” to say the same thing.
Since but is meant to show contrast, it cannot join words together in lists like and can. While and adds things together, but excludes things from each other by showing their differences.
John ran, swam, biked, but climbed. X
But cannot hold together a list of things that belong together while simultaneously contrasting them with something else.
John ran, swam, biked, and climbed.
We could instead create a list with and to show that John did all of the listed actions.
John ran, swam, and biked but did not climb.
John ran, swam, and biked, but he did not climb.
Alternatively, we can make a separate list of things John did do and use but to contrast that list with what John did not do.
For joins independent clauses to show that the second one is a reason for the first one. For means the same thing as because. However, for sounds a bit stiff and formal compared to because, so you might not see it used this way very often anymore.
I am famished, for I haven’t eaten all morning.
We had to turn around, for Charlie forgot his wallet.
Keep in mind that for can also function as a preposition. Do not jump to the conclusion that for is behaving as a coordinating conjunction every time you see it.
Did you get the cake for the party?
In this case, for is a preposition initiating the italicized prepositional phrase.
Nor is used to join two negative independent clauses. When using nor, the second clause’s structure must be inverted. This phenomenon is known as negative inversion.
I have never gone to a rock concert, nor do I want to.
Notice how the verb do must be placed before the subject I in the second clause.
Nor should not be used for joining other words and clauses on its own. Some writers argue that it is acceptable to join words and phrases with nor, but such sentences sound awkward and strange.
John did not call nor write while he was away. X
Using nor to connect the verbs call and write in this way sounds strange. Since the sentence already includes the word not, adding nor in this way seems to create a double negative. Instead of abusing nor, consider using or or adding neither to make a correlative conjunction.
John did not call or write while he was away.
John neither called nor wrote while he was away.
Either of the above examples conveys the same meaning and eliminates awkwardness. Take note that in the second example, nor is no longer a coordinating conjunction. Used in tandem with neither, nor becomes part of a correlative conjunction.
Or joins words, phrases, and clauses to present them as alternative options.
John will go to the store, or he will mow the lawn.
The use of or shows that John will do one of the two things presented but not both.
Will you eat the cake or the pie?
Here or presents the two direct objects as alternative options. The listener is given the choice to eat cake or pie but not both.
Jack or Chuck will win the contest.
Or presents either of the two subjects as the possible doer of the action in the sentence.
Does Joanna prefer chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry?
Or can also join words together in a list to present each item as an option.
You may not run, yell, or throw things in the office.
When used in a negative statement, or almost seems to function as a negative counterpart of and. In this sentence, or does not present running, yelling, and throwing things as options that we may choose one of. It rather indicates that all three are things we may not do. The sentence therefore means that you may not run, you may not yell, and you may not throw things.
So joins two independent clauses to show that the second clause is the result of the first one. It’s almost like the reverse of because.
William was sleepy, so he went to bed early.
We could reverse the sentence and use because to mean the same thing:
William went to bed early because he was sleepy.
We could also keep the same order by putting the dependent clause at the beginning like this:
Because he was sleepy, William went to bed early.
It’s important to understand that so can also function as a subordinating conjunction to join an independent clause to a dependent clause. As a subordinating conjunction, so does not need a comma. It also shows a different relationship between clauses as a subordinating conjunction. Rather than presenting the second clause as a result, it presents it as a reason for the first clause.
Shirley put the junk food on the top shelf so the kids couldn’t get it on their own.
Here we understand that the reason Shirley put the junk food on the top shelf was to keep the kids from getting into it on their own. So then is a subordinating conjunction here.
Yet joins two independent clauses to indicate that the second clause is still the case despite the information given in the first.
I despise pop songs, yet their annoying beats remain stuck in my head.
The use of yet indicates that the beats of annoying pop songs are stuck in my head despite my utter dislike for pop music.
Jeff was severely injured, yet he managed to walk to the hospital alone.
Yet shows that despite Jeff’s serious injuries, he was able to walk to the hospital by himself.