What Are Correlative Conjunctions?

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correlative conjunctions

The conjunction family is an extended one—with subsets containing coordinating, subordinating, and the ones under the scope in this post: correlative conjunctions. Conjunctions are words or phrases that link sections of a sentence, but understanding their roles can be a bit complicated since there are many of them.

The fact that there are different types of conjunctions means that they function and the way they’re slotted into sentences differs. You have to know all the three major types of conjunction for you to use them correctly.

I did an article on coordinating conjunction and kind of introduced correlative conjunctions, but this is a complete post on correlative conjunctions.

Read on to find out the definition, examples, and their usage.

So, What Are Correlative Conjunctions?

As I’ve already said, correlative conjunctions are one part of the four-member family of conjunctions, the other members being coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. But the conjunction family has an additional member called a conjunctive adverb, an adverb that acts as conjunction.

The name, correlative conjunctions, is self-explanatory; these conjunctions correlate, they are complementary pairs that connect phrases or words carrying equal importance in a sentence.

As simple as that!

Yes, they’re also simple to use when connecting parts of a sentence, as long as you follow a few important rules.

coordinating vs correlative conjunctions
Coordinating vs correlative conjunctions. (Image credit: “Conjunctions” by attanatta on Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Why Are Correlative Conjunctions Important?

Correlative conjunctions come in pairs, and it’s plain to see that they also serve purposes. The obvious one—the one we’ve already talked about—is linking two things in within a sentence but they also help you keep your writing as compact as possible. This way, they serve to keep your writing compendious but complete.

Correlative Conjunctions List

Here’s a list of the most common correlative conjunctions. There are many correlative conjunctions but these are the commonly used pairs.

  • Either / or
  • Neither / nor
  • Both / and
  • Hardly / when
  • Not only / but also
  • As / so
  • If / then
  • Not / but
  • Just as / so
  • No sooner / than
  • Rather / than
  • Scarcely / when
  • What with / and
  • Whether / or

Examples of Correlative Conjunctions in Action

  • I will either go to California or Florida.
  • He won’t arrive on time whether he travels by air or sea.
  • No sooner had I left my house than Susan came.
  • That man is both tired and angry.
  • If that is the case, then he must be banned from attending these meetings.
an example of correlative conjunctions in a sentence
An example of Correlative Conjunctions in a Sentence

What Are the Differences Between Coordinating, Correlative, And Subordinating Conjunctions?

The differences between these three types of conjunctions can be found in the way they connect the parts of a sentence. Subordinating conjunctions (where, when before since, after, because, although, and others) connect a subordinate (adverbial) clause to the independent clause, coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but) join two or more independent sentences, and correlative conjunctions are pairs of conjunctions in which connect two independent clauses in a sentence.

what are the differences between coordinating correlative and subordinating conjunctions

Commas and Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions do not need to be separated from each other by a comma but there are exceptions with regard to commas between correlative conjunctions.

For instance, it is incorrect to put a comma between two correlative conjunctions in the following sentences:

  • 1. You’ll be punished whether you’re late, or not.
  • 2. Either the coach, or the technical director will lead the team.

It is correct to write them as follows:

  • 1. You’ll be punished whether you’re late or not.
  • 2. Either the coach or the technical director will lead the team

However, language is too intricate for rules to apply everywhere sacredly. The laws of language are immutable where context seems to differ hence there are exceptions to the rule regarding commas between correlative conjunctions.

If grammatical arrangement necessitates the use of a comma, then it has to be used, regardless of whether or not it lies between a pair of correlative conjunctions.

The following sentence is a perfect example of a situation that requires the use of commas between the correlative pairs of conjunctions:

Neither the defense lawyer, who had a record and reputation to save nor his sympathizers had the energy to utter one more word after that piece of evidence were presented.

In this case, the commas are used to usher in a nonessential clausewho had a record and reputation to save” and have nothing to do with the pair of correlative conjunctions themselves.

The correlative conjunction pair Not only and but also usually has a comma in between them. This is so because “but” usually acts as a coordinating conjunction even when it’s part of a correlative conjunction pair.

For example, the sentence below has:

Not only did the coach leave Rudolf out of the squad, but she also told him not to travel with us.

There are exceptions to this “comma rule,” just make sure you understand them and use them correctly in your writing.

Subject-Verb Agreement Problems When Using Correlative Conjunctions

For native English speakers, using correlative conjunctions isn’t something that presents a lot of difficulties. But for people whose first language isn’t English, there can be some sentences where subjects and verbs don’t agree.

This is common when the correlative conjunction pairs of “either… or” and “neither… nor.” Check the following examples:

1A. [Wrong] Neither the coach nor the technical director were concerned with her injury.

1B. [Correct] Neither the coach nor the technical director was concerned with her injury.

2A. [Wrong] Either her teacher or her father takes her home.

2B. [Correct] Either her teacher or her father takes her home.

Two things you should always remember when using correlative conjunctions are:

  • The verb has to agree with the second subject, and
  • You shouldn’t confuse the functions of “Neither/nor” and “either/or” with that of “both/and.” When “both/and” is used, there’s an indication of the addition of the two subjects so the subjects become a group (plural) and the verb must agree with that plural form. For example, the 1B would change to:

1C. Both the coach and the technical director were concerned with her injury.

Correlative conjunctions work in pairs to connect parts of sentences.


To recap the main areas that I touched on, correlative conjunctions are one of the four types of conjunctions (coordinating, subordinate, correlative, and adverbial), but they have a different description usage to the other three types of conjunctions.

Correlative conjunctions do not need to be separated from each other by a comma but there it’s not necessarily taboo to do so. As a matter of fact, it makes more grammatical sense to use commas between correlative conjunctions as I have shown in this post.

All in all, if you know what conjunctions are all about and know all the small rules attached to their usage, then you’re good to go.

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Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories. She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.