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Conjunctions, coordination types, false coordination


8 Conjunctions

Conjunctions are used to express a connection between words. The most familiar conjunctions are and, but, and or:  
 

Paul and David 
cold and wet 
tired but happy 
slowly but surely 
tea or coffee 
hot or cold 

They can also connect longer units:  
 

Paul plays football and David plays chess 
I play tennis but I don't play well 
We can eat now or we can wait till later 

There are two types of conjunctions. COORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS (or simply COORDINATORS) connect elements of `equal' syntactic status:  
 

Paul and David 
I play tennis but I don't play well 
meat or fish 

Items which are connected by a coordinator are known as CONJOINS. So in I play tennis but I don't play well, the conjoins are [I play tennis] and [ I don't play well].  

On the other hand, SUBORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS (or SUBORDINATORS) connect elements of `unequal' syntactic status:  
 

I left early because I had an interview the next day 
We visited Madame Tussaud's while we were in London 
I'll be home at nine if I can get a taxi 

Other subordinating conjunctions include although, because, before, since, till, unless, whereas, whether  

Coordination and subordination are quite distinct concepts in grammar. Notice, for example, that coordinators must appear between the conjoins:  
 

[Paul plays football] and [David plays chess]

 ~*And [David plays chess] [Paul plays football] 

However, we can reverse the order of the conjoins, provided we keep the coordinator between them:  
 

[David plays chess] and [Paul plays football]

In contrast with this, subordinators do not have to occur between the items they connect::  
 

I left early because I had an interview the next day

~Because I had an interview the next day, I left early

But if we reverse the order of the items, we either change the meaning completely:  
 

I left early because I had an interview the next day

~I had an interview the next day because I left early 


or we produce a very dubious sentence:  
 

I'll be home at nine if I can get a taxi

~?I can get a taxi if I'll be home at nine 

This shows that items linked by a subordinator have a very specific relationship to each other -- it is a relationship of syntactic dependency. There is no syntactic dependency in the relationship between conjoins. We will further explore this topic when we look at the grammar of clauses.

8.1 Coordination Types

Conjoins are usually coordinated using one of the coordinators and, but, or or. In [1], the bracketed conjoins are coordinated using and:  

[1] [Quickly] and [resolutely], he strode into the bank 

This type of coordination, with a coordinator present, is called SYNDETIC COORDINATION.  

Coordination can also occur without the presence of a coordinator, as in [2]:  

[2] [Quickly], [resolutely], he strode into the bank 

No coordinator is present here, but the conjoins are still coordinated. This is known as ASYNDETIC COORDINATION.  

When three or more conjoins are coordinated, a coordinator will usually appear between the final two conjoins only:  

[3] I need [bread], [cheese], [eggs], and [milk] 

This is syndetic coordination, since a coordinating conjunction is present. It would be unusual to find a coordinator between each conjoin:  

[3a] I need [bread] and [cheese] and [eggs] and [milk] 

This is called POLYSYNDETIC COORDINATION. It is sometimes used for effect, for instance to express continuation:  

[4] This play will [run] and [run] and [run]  
[5] He just [talks] and [talks] and [talks] 

8.2 False Coordination

Coordinators are sometimes used without performing any strictly coordinating role:  
 

I'll come when I'm good and ready 

Here, the adjectives good and ready are not really being coordinated with each other. If they were, the sentence would mean something like:  
 

I'll come [when I'm good] and [when I'm ready] 

Clearly, this is not the meaning which good and ready conveys. Instead, good and intensifies the meaning of ready. We might rephrase the sentence as  
 

I'll come when I'm completely ready. 

Good and ready is an example of FALSE COORDINATION -- using a coordinator without any coordinating role. It is sometimes called PSEUDO-COORDINATION.  

False coordination can also be found in informal expressions using try and:  
 

Please try and come early 
I'll try and ring you from the office 

Here, too, no real coordination is taking place. The first sentence, for instance, does not mean Please try, and please come early. Instead, it is semantically equivalent to Please try to come early.  

In informal spoken English, and and but are often used as false coordinators, without any real coordinating role. The following extract from a conversation illustrates this:  
 

Speaker A: Well he told me it's this super high-flying computer software stuff. I'm sure it's the old job he used to have cleaning them 

Speaker B: But it went off okay last night then did it? Did you have a good turnout? [S1A-005-95ff] 

Here, the word but used by Speaker B does not coordinate any conjoins. Instead, it initiates her utterance, and introduces a completely new topic. 

 


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