Out of the three different kinds of conjunctions (coordinating, correlative and subordinating), subordinating conjunctions are the most difficult to recognize, but they are not that hard to master. In fact, you probably use them all the time without even noticing, but let’s take a closer look at them to see what’s going on.
A subordinating conjunction always introduces a dependent clause, tying it to an independent clause. The clauses can go in any order; that is, the independent or the dependent clause can come first in the sentence, but in either order, the first word of the dependent (or subordinate) clause will be the subordinating conjunction.
Using Subordinating Conjunctions
In English, there are lots of subordinating conjunctions, but the most common ones, along with a few examples of how subordinating conjunctions are used, are as follows:
after - “Your heart will break like mine, and you’ll want only me after you’ve gone” (Ella Fitzgerald).
although - “Although I’ve been here before, he’s just too hard to ignore” (Amy Winehouse).
as - “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realize there’s nothing left” (Coolio).
as long as - “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from or what you did as long as you love me” (Backstreet Boys).
because - “I’m everything I am because you loved me” (Celine Dion).
before - “Just call me angel of the morning, angel. Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby” (Juice Newton).
even if - “Even if the sky is falling down, you’ll be my only” (Jay Sean).
if - “If you leave me now, you’ll take away the biggest part of me” (Peter Cetera/Chicago).
once - “Once you pop, you can’t stop” (Pringles commercials).
now that - “Baby, now that I’ve found you, I won’t let you go” (Tony Macaulay/John MacLeod).
since - “I guess I’ll never be the same since I fell for you” (B.B. King).
though - “Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain though your dreams be tossed and blown” (Rodgers and Hammerstein).
unless - “We’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy” (Seal).
until - “[You] don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” (Cinderella).
when - “When I see you smile, I can face the world” (Bad English).
where - “There’s a light burning bright, showing me the way, but I know where I’ve been” (Scott Wittman).
while - “I look at the world, and I notice it’s turning while my guitar gently weeps” (The Beatles).
You’ll notice that when a dependent clause precedes an independent clause, there is a comma between the two, indicating the beginning of the main (independent) clause. However, when the independent clause comes first, there is no need to separate the two clauses with a comma.
Subordinating Conjunctions vs. Relative Pronouns
There is another group of words that sometimes introduce dependent clauses. These are called relative pronouns, and although they look and act very similar to coordinating conjunctions, they are different. True relative pronouns are “that,” “who” and “which,” and they differ from subordinating conjunctions in that they act as the subject of a dependent clause whereas subordinating conjunctions do not. Subordinating conjunctions are followed by the subject of their clause. Consider a few examples:
John is the guy who came over for dinner last week. - Here, we have two clauses. “John is the guy” is the main clause, and “who came over for dinner last week” gives us more information about John. The word “who” acts as the subject of the dependent clause.
We talked about music and movies while we ate. - Again, we have two clauses. “We talked about music and movies” is the main clause, and “while we ate” gives us more information. However, in this example, both clauses have the subject “we.” The word “while” does not act as the subject of the dependent clause.
Now that you know what subordinating conjunctions are, you can continue to use them, but now with new purpose and vigor!