Saturday, 7 April 2012

Use of Conjunctions

A conjunction refers to a word that connects or conjoins parts of sentences, phrases or clauses, and forms part of a relationship within the sentence. There are three basic types of conjunctions:

Coordinating conjunctions – These are used to connect words, phrases and clauses – And, So, Yet etc.

Subordinating conjunctions – These join a subordinate (dependent) clause to a main (independent) clause, e.g. Jane went walking over the fields, although it looked as though it would rain.

Correlative conjunctions – These come in pairs which link words, phrases or clauses within the sentence, i.e. ‘not only’, ‘but also’, ‘just as’, ‘either or’ etc. 

As with prepositions, and the ever shifting tastes of present day fiction, it is sometimes desirable to have conjunctions to begin a sentence, and just as with the correct use of prepositions, they can add a cumulative, overall effect to the narrative, depending how you use them.

Sometimes we use them for contrast, sometimes to make a statement, sometimes they can represent consequence and sometimes we use them to offer contrasting ideas or intent. They may only be two or three letter words, but their effect can be considerable.

But weren’t we taught not to use them at the beginning of sentences? 

Once again, it’s a case of pushing aside the dated advice given by your English teachers about starting sentences with conjunctions and prepositions, and instead using both of these tools to your advantage. Conjunctions have the ability to make the narrative a little more interesting, it prevents it from being flat.

The common ones used are:

  • And
  • For
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So
All of these, for example, might appear like this:

So, they had lied to her after all.

For the longest time, the sound of the planes hummed above them.

But now the tables had turned.

Or was she imagining it?

Yet, armed with the truth, he realised they couldn’t be trusted.

By far the most commonly used conjunction is ‘And’. Not only is it the most common, but one of the most powerful. But why should this unassuming little word be quite so influential?

When used at the beginning of a sentence, its effect is multiplied by how it’s used. As with prepositions, it’s not just about where it’s placed, but how it’s used and why. 

‘And’ is one of those words that brings brevity to a sentence, it can breathe a sense of atmosphere into the sentence, but it’s also a rather effective way of ending a chapter, too, because it makes an effective statement of intent, leading the reader into the next chapter.

Compare the effectiveness of these two sentences:

The lights went out.

And then the lights went out.

The first sentence is perfectly acceptable. It describes exactly what it needs to. The second sentence is also acceptable, but the only difference is that it adds a little bit of gravitas with the addition of ‘and’. This addition also changes the way the reader reads and interprets the sentence. It’s also quite effective joined with other words, like ‘And so’ or ‘And then’ or ‘And yet’.

The following excerpt is from a short story that takes the premise of ‘and’ to add something extra to the narrative; it repeats it throughout, giving the reader a sense of the passage of time, and it’s called ‘And Then’.

Legs moved, and arms and hands. His head felt so heavy.

The minutes evaporated.

And then that strange sensation rushed through him again when he tried to move – his head remained skewed. Something trickled into his stomach, flooded his abdomen and he winced against the sickly eddy, tried hard not to vomit...

...Then the minutes stopped. 

Amid the suffocating inner silence, his final moments vanished into the encroaching darkness and his vision instantly turned into an infinite blackness.

He slumped back against the cold tarmac.

And then...

Nothing.

Remember, it’s not how many times you use them that make the narrative better, but how they are used, so think carefully about the effect you want, the statement you’re making and the intent that you want to show. Used effectively, conjunctions add that little bit extra and help prevent flat, uninteresting narrative.


Next week: Why paying attention to advice will make you a better writer.

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