Coordinating conjunctions are what come to most people’s minds when they hear the word “conjunction,” and they do exactly what their name implies – they make things go together. They can join together words, phrases and independent clauses. If you’ve ever heard the classic Schoolhouse Rock song, “Conjunction Junction,” then you are already somewhat familiar with coordinating conjunctions.
The English language has seven coordinating conjunctions, and they’re easy to remember if you can just remember FANBOYS:
You’ll notice that in the example sentences, some of the coordinating conjunctions are preceded by a comma while others are not. There is a very simple reason for this. If a coordinating conjunction is joining together two independent clauses (things that could feasibly stand alone as complete sentences), it needs to have a comma with it. If the conjunction is connecting two phrases (incomplete sentences) or words (as in a list), it does not need a comma.
Some people will tell you that in a list of three or more items or phrases, you need a comma and a conjunction before the final item or phrase. The truth is, you don’t have to use a comma there, but you can if you want to, and if you think a comma will clear up any possible confusion, go ahead and use it. Otherwise, it’s really not necessary (see this article for more information on comma usage). The only coordinating conjunction that doesn’t seem to be able to connect sentence fragments (words and phrases) is “for.” When “for” comes between words or short phrases, it is typically acting not as a coordinating conjunction, but as a preposition.
Another rule you’ll often hear is that it is incorrect to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, and while this is a good rule of thumb, it is not a hard and fast law of grammar. You should try to limit how often you begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, but it is not incorrect to do so, especially if it will break up a particularly long sentence into more easily understandable chunks. Coordinating conjunctions are the simplest of all the conjunctions to recognize and master, and knowing how they work will improve the quality and complexity of your writing, so if that’s what you’re after, you are now fully equipped! Happy writing!