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Grammar Bite: Correlative Conjunctions

English keyboard with a heart on the windows key and "grammar" on the alt key

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. When these conjunctions appear in your writing, you want to ensure the sentence parts they join are structured the same way. For example:

Not only was I sick, but I was also tired.
He not only will call but will also 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. Our second example has conjunctions that 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. The last example has conjunctions that 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:

  • Although … nevertheless
  • Although … yet
  • As … as
  • Either … or
  • If … then (then can often be dropped to streamline the sentence)
  • Just as … so also
  • Neither … nor
  • Since … therefore
  • When … then (then can sometimes be dropped to streamline)
  • Whether … or

Being aware of word pairs like this can help you quickly and subtly improve your writing.

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