Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating Conjunctions

A subordinating conjunction links a subordinate clause to the main clause.

Here's a list of common subordinating conjunctions:
afterin the event thatthough
althoughjust in caseuntil
asnow thatwhen
as soon asoncewhenever
becauseonly ifwhere
beforeprovided thatwhereas
by the timerather thanwherever
even ifsincewhether
even thoughso thatwhether or not
every timethanwhile
in case
in order that

Easy Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions

In each example below, the subordinating conjunction is underlined, and the subordinate clause is in bold. (The normal text is the main clause.)
  • Keep your hand on the wound until the bleeding stops.
  • Steve will sleep wherever there's a bed.
  • She left because Mike arrived.
  • If it rains, the bet is off.
  • Even though  she's skint, she'll still look a million dollars.
A subordinating conjunction provides a bridge between the main clause and the subordinate clause.

Real-Life Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions

The role of the subordinating conjunction and subordinate clause is to establish a time, a place, a reason, a condition or a concession for the main clause.
  • I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. (Comedian Groucho Marx) (The subordinate clause establishes a time for the main clause.)
  • Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity. (Greek physician Hippocrates) (The subordinate clause establishes a place for the main clause.)
  • People are more violently opposed to fur than leather because it's safer to harass rich women than motorcycle gangs. (The subordinate clause establishes a reason for the main clause.)
  • Man is ready to die for an idea, provided that idea is not quite clear to him. (Author Paul Eldridge)
  • (The subordinate clause establishes a condition for the main clause.)
  • I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught. (Sir Winston Churchill)
  • (The subordinate clause establishes a concession for the main clause.)
When a sentence has a main clause (also called an independent clause) and at least one subordinate clause (also called a dependent clause), it is known as a complex sentence.

Why Should I Care about Subordinating Conjunctions?

As a native English speaker, you don't need to worry about whether your subordinating conjunction is heading up a clause that establishes a time, a place, a reason, a condition or a concession. You'll do that bit naturally.

The most common question related to subordinating conjunctions is whether to offset the subordinate clause with a comma or not. Here's the guidance:

When a subordinate clause starts a sentence, separate it from the main clause with a comma.
  • If you shoot at mimes, should you use a silencer? (Comedian Steven Wright)
  • Now that I'm over sixty, I'm veering toward respectability. (Actress Shelley Winters)
These are often called fronted subordinate clauses. A comma is used with a fronted subordinate clause because the comma makes it clear where the main clause starts.

When a subordinate clause ends a sentence, you can drop the comma.
  • Should you use a silencer if you shoot at mimes?
  • I'm veering toward respectability now that I'm over sixty.
There's a quirk though: You can use a comma for a deliberate pause.

As a rule, try to resist using a comma before a subordinating conjunction. However, if you want to create a pause for effect, then a comma can be used.
  • Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons. (Film director Woody Allen)
  • Man is ready to die for an idea, provided that idea is not quite clear to him.
If you were told at school that a comma represents a pause, then your teacher was giving you reading advice not writing advice. There are specific rules on using commas and "to create a pause" isn't one of them, even though you'd likely whack in a few accurate commas if you adopted that rule. That said, this is a time when a comma can be used to create a pause. That's why it's a quirk. It's also pretty common.

Key Points

  • If your subordinate conjunction heads up a clause at the start of your sentence, offset the clause with a comma.
  • If your subordinate conjunction heads up a clause at the back of your sentence, don't use a comma (unless you want a pause for effect).
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