Correlative Conjunction: Basic Grammar Rules Explained

correlative conjunctionsEither…or, neither…nor, so…as – you have probably used these extensively over the years without actually knowing that they constitute a class of conjunctions called correlative conjunctions. This article will teach you everything you needed to know about them and how to use them properly.

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What are Correlative Conjunctions?

You probably know that a conjunction is a part of speech used to join sentences and phrases. And, or, but, yet, so are some of the most commonly used conjunctions, used either individually or in pairs.

Conjunctions that are used in pairs to join sentences or phrases that carry the same general meaning and tone are called correlative conjunctions. They are so called because they are always used together and convey the same relative meaning.

Let’s consider a few examples to understand them better:

  • When I get back home, either I’ll watch the new Game of Thrones episode, or I’ll cook myself a light dinner.
  • The new quarterback is neither fast, nor does he have a strong arm.
  • Not only is the mayor extremely media-savvy, but he is also a Nobel-prize winning economist.

In the above three sentences, we’ve joined multiple statements, phrases and clauses with conjunctions (in bold). Let’s examine these in more detail:

1. When I get back home, either I’ll watch the new Game of Thrones episode, or I’ll cook myself a light dinner.

If you consider the sentence’s meaning, you can write this down as two separate sentences, like this:

  • When I get back home, I’ll watch the new Game of Thrones episode.
  • When I get back home, I’ll cook myself a light dinner.

Basically, the speaker here has a choice between two activities – he can either watch some TV, or he can cook dinner. But writing the two choices separately sounds awkward and makes for a lot of redundancy. A better way is to combine the two statements into a single sentence joined together by a conjunction – in this case, either…or.

2. The new quarterback is neither fast, nor does he have a strong arm.

Here, the speaker is putting forth a complaint about his team’s new quarterback. He could’ve very well written this as two sentences:

  • The new quarterback is not fast.
  • The new quarterback does not have a strong arm.

Instead of writing them separately, we can combine them using neither…nor. Keep in mind that the meaning of the two sentences remains negative.

3. Not only is the mayor extremely media-savvy, but he is also a Nobel-prize winning economist.

In this example, the speaker wants to show that the mayor has two positive, sometimes contradictory qualities. We can break this sentence down as follows:

  • The mayor is extremely media-savvy.
  • The mayor is a Nobel-prize winning economist.

Once again, rather than writing the two sentences separately, we can condense it into a single sentence that highlights how the two qualities seldom go hand in hand.

In all these examples, using correlative conjunctions makes the sentences more economical, and gives them equal “weight” such that they roll off the tongue easily. That is to say: correlative conjunctions make for better writing.

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Types of Correlative Conjunctions

There are several types correlative conjunctions in the English language. Some of the most prominent ones are:

1. either…or

This conjunction is used when you want to convey a choice. While you can use or by itself, it is grammatically incorrect to use either separately (i.e. you can have a sentence like “I will go to the movies or watch a play”, but not “I will either go to the movies, and watch a play”).

Example: You can either buy a house with your inheritance, or you can spend it all on a new car and a vacation.

2. neither…nor

This conjunction is used when you want to negate two choices, i.e. something is neither this, nor that. Whenever you use neither, it must be followed by nor.

Example: Neither Batman, nor Superman can save Gotham.

He was neither terribly smart, nor particularly stupid.

3. not only…but (also)

You typically use this conjunction to join sentences that demonstrate two typically contradictory choices. For example, when somebody is good looking and smart, or when a car is extremely fast and extremely safe.

Example: The singer is not only gorgeous, but she is also a Harvard educated neuroscientist.

4. just as…so

This conjunction is used to indicate a similarity or relation between two subjects.

Example: Just as the Brazilians love soccer, so the Indians love cricket.

5. not…but

This conjunction is used when you want to negate one choice and highlight another, i.e. when something is not X, but Y. The example below will illustrate it better:

Example: He hit not one, but three homeruns that evening.

Some other less frequently used correlative conjunctions are:

  • As…as
  • The more…the less
  • The more…the more
  • No sooner…than
  • So…as
  • Whether…or

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Things to Keep in Mind When Using Correlative Conjunctions

Before we leave, here are a few things you must keep in mind when using correlative conjunctions:

1. Verb Agreement

When two subjects are joined together by a correlative conjunction, the verb that follows must be in agreement with the subjects.

For example:

  • As per the records, either the pen, or the bag makes up the bulk of the order.
  • As per the records, either the pens, or the bags make up the bulk of the order.

2. Pronoun Agreement

When two subjects are joined together by a correlative conjunction, any pronoun that follows must be in agreement with the second subject.

For example:

  • Neither the CEO, nor the top executives got their share of the bonuses this year.
  • Neither the executives, nor the CEO got his share of the bonuses this year.

This is all you need to know to use correlative conjunctions effectively in your writing. This course advanced English grammar will bring you up to speed on more advanced concepts and grammar rules in the English language.