Get yourself connected

English connectorsOliver Pritchard shows you how to use English connectors and conjunctions to better control your language


Controlling your language is very important. Without control, language sounds very strange – like drunk people shouting at each other. Even for very low-level students, it’s important to use control so that you sound natural. We control language with connectors and conjunctions. In writing, punctuation is also useful.

Connectors and conjunctions

Connectors are the parts of speech that join clauses, or ideas, together. They help you to be fluent and coherent when speaking and writing. Sometimes these words are phrases, sometimes single words. We can even use prepositions as connectors.

The basic difference between conjunctions and connectors is fairly simple. Connectors link ideas in separate sentences, and conjunctions link ideas (or clauses) within sentences. Many English teachers and editors like to pretend there are all kinds of rules and laws controlling conjunctions and connectors, but like most things in English, there are many exceptions. Therefore, it’s most helpful if you focus on what feels right, or even better, what you see.

Conjunctions: Expressing logical arguments

Here we shall give you some basic conjunctions. Remember that this is an incomplete list, but we will cover the main examples.

But – although – though – even though

These provide a contrast. The contrast can be negative or positive, as we can see. The beer is expensive but it tastes brilliant! The beer is brilliant, but it costs a lot of money. You should use ‘but’ in the middle of sentences.

All of the ‘though’ conjunctions can be used at the start. Even though the beer is expensive, it tastes brilliant! The beer is expensive, although it tastes brilliant! Note that there is an emphasis on the clause following the ‘though’ conjunctions.

Because – since – as

These give a consequence of an action. I am fit because I ride my bicycle. They can also give the reason for an action: He drinks champagne because/since he is rich. His money allows him the possibility of drinking champagne. This can also be used in reverse: since/because he is rich, he drinks champagne. Note that ‘since’ and ‘as’ are usually used at the start of clauses.

Despite – in spite of

These give a contrasting consequence. They express a strange or unusual consequence of an action. Despite studying hard, he failed the exam. In spite of her laziness, she passed the exam. Note that these conjunctions use the gerund form of verbs or simple nouns.

(Either)/or

This presents an option. You can either have cake or biscuits. You are not allowed both options, and you must make a choice. The word ‘either’ is not necessary in this sentence, it is used for emphasis, but it looks nice.

Neither/nor

With this conjunction, the word neither is necessary in almost every example. You can have neither cake nor biscuits. Both options are denied to you.

(Both)/and – not only/but also

In this last example of cake and biscuits, you can eat whatever you like! You can have both cake and biscuits! Both options are possible. Note again that the ‘both’ is not necessary.

This can also be used to give more information. He not only plays football, but also rugby. It is both good for the economy, and useful for propaganda. Both things are true.

Prepositions

Prepositions are used for linking time or place. Some examples: I will go to the park after I finish this work. Check the date before you call her. I’ll call you when I’m at the station. He drinks coffee while he’s working.

In order to – so that – so – to

This provides a reason for performing an action. I ride my bicycle in order to keep fit. I ride my bicycle so that I can keep fit. I ride my bicycle so I can keep fit. I ride my bicycle to keep fit. Keeping fit is the reason I ride my bicycle. Note that with ‘so…’ conjunctions, the clause needs to be more explicit, and with ‘to…’ clauses you can use a simple infinitive.

Conditional linkers

If – as long as – unless

Standard conditional sentences always have conjunctions. If you buy a drink for me, I will be happy. You can also use ‘as long as’. I will be happy as long as you buy a drink for me.

Note that you can change the meaning by using unless. Unless you buy a drink for me, I will be sad (not happy). I will go home unless you say sorry. This is also true with as long as: I won’t go home as long as you say sorry.

Connectors

However

This is most commonly used as an alternative to the conjunction ‘but’. My students are generally very good. However, some of the boys are failing. It is seen as more formal and allows the ideas to be more fully developed than in ‘but…’ clauses.

Nevertheless – taking (x) into consideration

Like ‘although’, this shows that something has negative points, but is positive overall. Colombia has had a violent history. Nevertheless, the future looks bright. Even taking this history into consideration, the future is bright. It allows us to concede negative points but still promote something as positive.

Additionally – furthermore – in addition – moreover

This gives extra information and/or moves the discourse to new ground. This will be good for the economy. Additionally, it will stop social problems. Moreover, it will help international relations.

For example – to illustrate

These connectors give us examples or stories that support our ideas. Colombia is very diverse. For example, in a few hours you can travel from the altiplano to the llanos.

Therefore – consequently – accordingly – hence

These are used to show consequences. I was paid yesterday. Therefore I am happy. Accordingly, I will buy everyone a drink.

Indeed – as a matter of fact – actually

These provide emphasis. You can use them to show that the following information is surprising or important. She drinks a lot of coffee. Indeed, she’s already had five cups today. Remember that actually is different from actualmente, and means ‘in truth’.

Conversely – in contrast – on the other hand

This provides a direct opposite to the previous idea. Millonarios fans are terrible. Conversely, Santa Fe fans are perfect human beings.

‘On the other hand’ is very problematic for students. Note that unlike the Spanish expression, this must provide a contrast as well as a new idea. I would like pasta for dinner, but on the other hand there is a new pizza restaurant I would like to visit. I cannot eat two meals tonight, so there is an idea of a choice or a decision to make. Visiting Ecuador would allow us to surf, see volcanoes and visit the Amazon. On the other hand, it would be very expensive. In this example we are moving from positive factors to negative factors.

Where to put connectors and conjunctions

Some grammarians will tell you that you should never begin a sentence with a conjunction. But this is not true, and it isn’t clear where this rule comes from. There are plenty of times when it is appropriate to use conjunctions at the start of sentences.

Students, nevertheless, generally put connectors at the start of every sentence. This means that your discourse becomes very mechanical. Especially in writing, it becomes very boring to keep reading “although…” or “therefore…” at the start of every sentence. Think about how to use connectors carefully and only when necessary. If you are using a great number of connectors, this probably means you should be using more conjunctions instead. Some connectors can be used within sentences. You need to be careful, however, to make sure that you use punctuation correctly.

In the end, then, connectors and conjunctions are tricky, but useful, parts of English. Learning how they work and paying attention to how they are used will improve both your productive language, as you become more fluent and coherent, and also your receptive skills as you can better understand how ideas are linked together and what a writer or speaker is trying to say.

See if you can try these for yourself

Rewrite each of the following sentences so that it has the same meaning as the original sentence, using the indicated conjunction/connector.

1. I didn’t know many people at the party but I had a good time. (although)
2. She had studied very hard and she passed her exams. (because)
3. Listen carefully or you won’t know what to do. (if)
4. We live in the same street. We hardly ever see each other. (although)
5. He worked in a bookshop for two years. Then he went to university. (after)
6. I had the necessary qualifications. However, I didn’t get the job. (despite)
7. Automation affects the number of workers in factories. It also affects the type of work that is done. (not only… but also)



By Oli Pritchard