Correlative conjunction is the grammarian’s fancy term for a pair of conjunctions that join two matching sentence parts, such as not only…but also and both…and. The trick with these conjunctions is the sentence parts they join must be structured the same way. For example:
Not only was I sick, but I was also tired.
He not only will call but also will send flowers.
Both she and I have completed the coursework.
The book is both long and complicated.
In the first example, both parts of the sentence have a subject-verb structure (technically, these are two complete sentences). In the second example, the conjunctions are joining two verb phrases: will call and will send flowers. If you’re going to use not only, be sure to follow it with but also (or but…as well or but…too).
In the third example, both…and are joining she and I, subject pronouns for the verb have completed. In the last example, the conjunctions are joining two adjectives describing book: long and complicated. In these cases, you could choose to drop both:
She and I have completed the coursework.
The book is long and complicated.
But if you use both to join two parts, you’ll need to follow it with and:
Wrong: The book is both long or complicated.
Right: The book is both long and complicated.
Some other correlative conjunctions to watch for:
- If…then (though then can often be dropped to streamline the sentence)
- Just as…so also
- When…then (then can sometimes be dropped to streamline)
Which correlative conjunctions do you see the most? E-mail me or post a comment below if you have a few in mind!