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Correlative Conjunctions

A correlative conjunction is essentially a coordinate conjunction used in pairs. A correlative conjunction gets its name from the fact that it is a paired conjunction that has a reciprocal or complementary relationship.

Correlative conjunctions always join grammatically equal elements (e.g., noun & noun, adjective & adjective, phrase & phrase, clause & clause, etc.). They also lend equal weight to the joined elements; which is to say, one joined element is always equal to but never subordinate to the other.

It's interesting to note that the second word of each conjunctive pair is a coordinating conjunction.

Correlative Conjunctions Note

Correlative conjunctions usually precede the joined elements, or conjuncts, immediately.

Correlative conjunctions are essentially paired coordinating conjunctions. The meaning expressed by a sentence with correlative conjunctions is basically the same as a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.

The difference is only a matter of emphasis, where the correlative conjunction reinforces the fact that there are two equal elements or ideas in the sentence. Below are five pairs of correlative conjunctions commonly used in English.

either ..... or
neither ..... nor
not only ..... but also
whether ..... or
both ..... and

Examples of Correlative Conjunctions

In the following examples, note the placement of correlating conjunctions, which generally appear immediately before the elements they join. Conjunctions appear in accentuated text; joined elements are underlined.

Either you or Susan must remain with me.

(Correlative conjunction joins the pronoun you and the noun Susan, becoming the compound subject of the sentence.)

Either help us in our struggle for égalité or step aside and let us pass.

(Conjunction joins two independent clauses.)

This job requires an ability possessed neither by Jack nor by John.

(Conjunction joins two prepositional phrases.)

In 1795 B.C.E., Babylon was not only the capital city of ancient Babylonia but also the world's first metropolis.

(Two noun phrases are joined, forming a compound subject complement.)

Whether we meet in the park or at Enid's house is up to you.

(Sometimes a correlating conjunction does not immediately precede the joined element.)

Both the teacher and the principal were furious.

(Conjunction joins two noun phrases, which become the compound subject.)

When using paired conjunctions, be sure the joined elements are grammatically equal. Poor grammatical constructions result when joining unequal elements. In the examples below, joined elements appear in accentuated text; conjunctions are underlined.

When building Hoover Dam, laborers not only discovered silver but also gold.

(Construction is poor because the correlative conjunction does not join grammatically equal elements. Discovered silver is a verb + object; gold is a noun. The conjunction pairs a phrase with a single noun.)

When building Hoover Dam, laborers discovered not only silver but also gold.

(The construction is correct because the paired conjunctions join two nouns, grammatically equal elements.)

Beth became angry both with our singing and our shouting.

(Grammatically unequal elements are joined: A prepositional phrase is joined with a gerund phrase.)

Beth became angry both with our singing and with our shouting.

(Two prepositional phrases, grammatically equal elements, are joined.)

Put your earnings either in a bank or in a treasury account.

Whether Jim sees a movie or watches a play is unimportant to me.

The hounds were neither smart enough to climb the ledge nor small enough to enter the cave.

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