The Uses of And, Or & Other Cordinative Conjunctions

Uses of AND

The word and is used to suggest that one idea is chronologically sequential to another.

For Example:
  • Tashonda sent in her applications and waited by the phone for a response.

Again, and is used to suggest that one idea is the result of another.

For Example:
  • Willie heard the weather report and promptly boarded up his house.

And is also used to suggest that one idea is in contrast to another (frequently replaced by “but” in this context).

For Example:
  • Juanita is brilliant and Shalimar has a pleasant personality.

And may also be used to suggest an element of surprise (sometimes replaced by “yet” in this context).

For Example:
  • Hartford is rich and suffers from many symptoms of urban blight.

The word and is also used to suggest that one clause is dependent upon another conditionally (usually the first clause is an imperative).

For Example:
  • Try to act like someone else and you’ll become a subject of mockery.

And is sometimes used to suggest a kind of “comment” on the first clause.

For Example:
  • Charlie became ‘addicted to gambling— and that surprised no one who knew him.

Uses of But

But is used to suggest a contrast that is unexpected in light of the first clause.

For Example:
  • The Young Stars were defeated in their first match, but they are still quite hopeful of making it through the next stage.

But is used to suggest in an affirmative sense what the first part of the sentence implied in a negative way (sometimes replaced by on the contrary).

For Example:
  • The club never invested foolishly, but used the services of a sage investment counselor.

But is also used to connect two ideas with the meaning of “with the exception of” (and then the second word takes over as subject).

For Example:
  • All the items but Taholtz 556 is ready for delivery.

Uses of Or

Or is used to suggest that only one possibility can be realized, excluding one or the other.

For Example:
  • You can accept the offer or you can reject it.

Or is also used to suggest the inclusive combination of alternatives.

For Example:
  • We can broil chicken on the grill tonight, or we can just eat leftovers.

Or may be used to suggest a refinement of the first clause.

For Example:
  • Smith College is the premier all-women's college in the country, or so it seems to most Smith College alumnae.

Or is used to suggest a restatement or “correction” of the first part of the sentence.

For Example:
  • There are no rattlesnakes in this canyon, or so our guide tells us.

Or is used to suggest a negative condition.

For Example:
  • The New Hampshire state motto is the rather grim “Live free or die.”

Or is also used to suggest a negative alternative without the use of an imperative (see use of and above).

For Example:
  • They must approve his political style or they wouldn't keep electing him mayor.


Nor is not extinct, but it is not used nearly as often as the other conjunctions, so it might feel a bit odd when nor does come up in conversation or writing.

It is no longer news that neither and nor are bosom buddies. They occur in the same sentence as a correlative pair.

Nor will usually follow neither when they're used in the same sentence.

For Example:
  • He is neither sane nor brilliant.
  • That is neither what I said nor what I meant.

Nor can be used with other negative expressions:

For Example:
  • That is not what I meant to say, nor should you interpret my statement as an admission of guilt.

Nor without a preceding negative element, but it is unusual and, to an extent, rather akward.

For Example:
  • George's handshake is as good as any written contract, nor has he ever proven untrustworthy.

Uses of YET

Yet functions sometimes as an adverbOpens in new window and has several meanings:

  • in addition (yet another cause of trouble” or “a simple yet noble woman”),
  • even (yet more expensive”),
  • still (“he is yet a novice”),
  • eventually (“they may yet win”), and
  • so soon as now (“he's not here yet).

Yet also functions as a coordinating conjunctionOpens in new window meaning something like “nevertheless” or “but.” The word yet seems to carry an element of distinctiveness that but can seldom register.

Consider the following sentences:
  • John plays basketball well, yet his favorite sport is badminton.
  • The visitors complained loudly about the heat, yet they continued to play golf every day.

In sentences such as the second one, above, the pronoun subject of the second clause (“they,” in this case) is often left out.

When that happens, the comma preceding the conjunction might also disappear:

  • “The visitors complained loudly yet continued to play golf every day.”

Yet is sometimes combined with other conjunctions, but or and. It would not be unusual to see and yet in sentences like the ones above. This usage is acceptable.

Uses of FOR

The word for is most often used as a prepositionOpens in new window, of course, but it does serve, on rare occasions, as a coordinating conjunctionOpens in new window.

Some people regard the conjunction for as rather highfalutin and literary, and it does tend to add a bit of weightiness to the text.

Beginning a sentence with the conjunction “for” is probably not a good idea, except when you're singing:

For has serious sequential implications and in its use the order of thoughts is more important than it is, say, with because or since. Its function is to introduce the reason for the preceding clause.

For Example:
  • John thought he had a good chance to get the job, for his father was on the company's board of trustees.
  • Most of the visitors were happy just sitting around in the shade, for it had been a long, dusty journey on the train.

Uses of SO

Be careful of the conjunction so. Sometimes it can connect two independent clausesOpens in new window along with a comma, but sometimes it can't. For instance, in this sentence:

Where the word so means “as well” or “in addition,” most careful writers would use a semicolon between the two independent clauses.

In the following sentence, where so is acting like a minor-league “therefore,” the conjunction and the comma are adequate to the task:

Sometimes, at the beginning of a sentence, so will act as a kind of summing up device or transition, and when it does, it is often set off from the rest of the sentence with a comma:

Uses of Then and Than

In some parts of the United States, we are told, then and than not only look alike, they sound alike.

Like a teacher with twins in her classroom, you need to be able to distinguish between these two words; otherwise, they′ll become mischievous.

They are often used and they should be used for the right purposes.

Than is used to make comparisons.

In the sentence “Piggy would rather be rescued then stay on the island,” we have employed the wrong word because a comparison is being made between Piggy's two choices; we need than instead.

In the sentence above, adverbial construction “other than” helps us make an implied comparison; this usage is perfectly acceptable in the United States but careful writers in the UK try to avoid it (Burchfield).

Generally, the only question about than arises when we have to decide whether the word is being used as a conjunction or as a prepositionOpens in new window.

If it's a preposition (and Merriam-Webster’s dictionary provides for this usage), then the word that follows it should be in the object form, as:

  • He’s taller and somewhat more handsome than me.
  • Just because you look like him doesn’t mean you can play better than him.

Most careful writers, however, will insist that than be used as a conjunction; it’s as if part of the clause introduced by than has been left out:

  • He’s taller and somewhat more handsome than I [am handsome].
  • You can play better than he [can play].

In formal, academic text, you should probably use than as a conjunction and follow it with the subject form of a pronounOpens in new window (where a pronoun is appropriate).

Uses of Then

Survey the following sentence.

You can tell the difference between then as a preposition and a coordinating conjunction by trying to move the word around in the sentence. We can write:

  • “He then turned his attention to England”;
  • “He turned his attention, then, to England”;
  • “He turned his attention to England then.”

The word then can move around within the clause. Try that with a conjunction, and you will quickly see that the conjunction cannot move around.

The word and is stuck exactly there and cannot move like then, which is more like an adverbial conjunctionOpens in new window than a coordinating conjunction.

Our original sentence in this paragraph — “Caesar invaded Gaul, then he turned his attention to England” — is a comma spliceOpens in new window, a faulty sentence construction in which a comma tries to hold together two independent clauses all by itself: the comma needs a coordinating conjunction to help out, and the word then simply doesn’t work that way.