Correlative conjunctions are one of the three types of conjunctions. (The others are subordinating conjunctions and coordinating conjunctions. More on them in a minute.) Like all conjunctions, correlative conjunctions link words and phrases together in sentences, indicating the relationship (and in some cases, the lack of relationship) between them.
You use correlative conjunctions in your speech all the time. If you’ve ever said something like “I could play either soccer or basketball next season,” you’ve used correlative conjunctions. In your writing, correlative conjunctions are a handy tool to make your sentences stronger and more clear.
What is a correlative conjunction?
Correlative conjunctions are conjunctions used to illustrate how two words or phrases within a sentence relate to each other. Correlative conjunctions always come in pairs.
Though they can illustrate a correlation between the two words or phrases, they don’t necessarily have to. In many cases, the words or phrases linked by a correlative conjunction can be discussed independently of one another. In these cases, joining them with a correlative conjunction makes your writing more concise and emphasizes that the two things being discussed happen in close succession, at the same time, or as a result of the same cause, or that they’re both distinct possibilities or outcomes of a shared cause or starting point.
Take a look at these sentences that use correlative conjunctions:
We could either hike up the mountain or swim in the lake this afternoon.
Whether you bike or drive to work, you’ll need to show your parking pass.
Not only did my boyfriend buy me a Nintendo Switch, but he also bought me a bunch of games!
Before we go deeper into correlative conjunctions, let’s do a quick refresher on conjunctions as a part of speech. Conjunctions are words that link phrases, clauses, and words together in sentences. Words like and and but are conjunctions. When you use a conjunction in a sentence, the words or phrases it links need to have parallel structures. Here’s an example of a conjunction at work:
She drives slowly and cautiously.
“She drives slow and cautiously” is incorrect, as are “She drives slowly and cautious” and “She drives slow and cautious.” In this example, the adverbs “slowly” and “cautiously” both describe the verb “drives,” and the conjunction and links them together to give the reader the full picture: The subject (“she”) doesn’t just drive, but drives at a low speed and in a cautious manner.
And can be a correlative conjunction when it’s paired with another conjunction like both. Take a look at this example:
Both my cat and my dog like bacon-flavored treats.
Like socks, correlative conjunctions always come in pairs. That’s their defining characteristic; if a conjunction doesn’t need a partner for its sentence to make sense, it’s not a correlative conjunction. The most common correlative conjunction pairs include:
- not only/but also
- as many/as
- no sooner/than
Let’s take a look at a few example sentences:
Either you’re with me or you’re against me.
Such is the intensity of the pollen outside that I can’t leave the house.
My parents went to both Hawaii and Bali last year.
She would no sooner cheat on an exam than falsify her credentials.
They would rather go to the movies than the mall.
What does a correlative conjunction do?
Correlative conjunctions create pairs of equal elements. By elements, we mean words and phrases within a sentence that are the same part of speech or serve the same function. This could mean two nouns, two adjectives, two verbs, or two of the same kind of phrase. Here are a few examples of correlative conjunctions in sentences:
Because of the bad weather, the class missed both their history and English exams.
They not only ate all the donuts but also drank all the coffee.
I wasn’t sure whether the play was disjointed or avant-garde.
Correlative conjunctions are just one type of conjunction. The other types are subordinating conjunctions and coordinating conjunctions.
Coordinating conjunctions are words that join two elements of equal grammatical rank and syntactic importance. They can join two verbs, two nouns, two adjectives, two phrases, or two independent clauses. In our example above, the word and acts as a coordinating conjunction. When most people think of conjunctions, they think of coordinating conjunctions. The seven coordinating conjunctions can be remembered by using the acronym FANBOYS:
Subordinating conjunctions are conjunctions that link independent clauses to dependent clauses. By doing this, the subordinating conjunction demonstrates the relationship between the clauses, which is often a cause-and-effect relationship or a contrast. Here’s a quick example:
He was late to work because there was traffic.
Common subordinating conjunctions include:
When should you use correlative conjunctions?
Use correlative conjunctions when you have two distinct yet connected concepts in a sentence. If you and your roommate both tend to wake up early, an efficient sentence to communicate this is “Both my roommate and I wake up early.”
Correlative conjunctions can be helpful in transition sentences. Here’s an example of a short paragraph featuring a transition sentence:
I wasn’t hired at any of the companies I’d applied to. Neither my experience nor my skill set seemed to impress the interviewers. So I’m going to explore opportunities in a completely different field.
You can remove the second sentence and the paragraph will still make sense. However, that middle sentence adds detail and context. Here’s another example of correlative conjunctions in a transition sentence:
My goal is to earn a PhD. Whether I get into my dream school or I get accepted somewhere else, that’s my plan. After that, who knows what I’ll do?
When you’re using correlative conjunctions, subject-verb agreement is a must. All this means is that the verb in the sentence is conjugated to match the noun or pronoun that is its subject. Take a look at this example:
How to use correlative conjunctions
Correlative conjunctions always come in pairs. Many of these words can be used without their correlative partners, and when this is the case, the word isn’t acting as a correlative conjunction. Here’s an example:
She was such an amazing cook.
In this sentence, the word “such” is an adverb because it’s modifying the adjective “amazing” by amplifying it. But the word “such” can also be a correlative conjunction—when it’s paired with the word “that.”
She was such an amazing cook that she won over even the pickiest eaters.
See how the pair of correlative conjunctions demonstrates the cause and effect in this sentence? You can also split the sentence in two:
She was such an amazing cook. She won over even the pickiest eaters.
We can infer the cause and effect here, but linking these sentences with correlative conjunctions makes the relationship between her cooking and her picky eater–converting skills clear.
Take a look at more example sentences that contain correlative conjunctions:
My brother is either playing video games or writing music on his PC.
We received neither the package nor the invoice.
Jenna not only plays the violin, but also sings professionally.
We invited both the Rodriguezes and the Losapios to dinner.
There were as many applicants as there were seats in the program.
I could no sooner answer him than he called me back.
The kids would rather eat ramen than scrambled eggs.
Every single one of these sentences can be reworded to remove the correlative conjunctions and still make sense, but they might get longer or lose some clarity. For example, we can rework the last example to “The kids would eat scrambled eggs, but would prefer ramen.” No meaning is lost, but the version with the correlative conjunctions emphasizes the kids’ preference for ramen by placing it ahead of the scrambled eggs.
Correlative conjunction FAQs
What is a correlative conjunction?
Correlative conjunctions are pairs of conjunctions that connect words or phrases that are the same part of speech or serve the same function within a sentence.
How are correlative conjunctions used?
Correlative conjunctions are used to make writing flow more easily, reduce redundancy, and make the relationship between equal words or phrases within a sentence clear. Although they can be used to allude to cause-and-effect relationships, they don’t have to be. Compare these two sentences:
- Correlative conjunction: She was such an amazing cook that she won over even the pickiest eaters.
- Subordinating conjunction: She was such an amazing cook because she won over even the pickiest eaters.
What are common correlative conjunction pairs?
- not only/but also
- as many/as
- no sooner/than
Communicate with confidence
When you need to show the relationship between two equal elements in a sentence, use a pair of correlative conjunctions. When you need to double-check your work to see if you missed any grammatical mistakes or if your tone isn’t quite what you wanted, run it through Grammarly. Our writing assistance tool catches mistakes and detects the tones in your work, then offers suggestions to make your writing even stronger.