In a previous post, I discussed coordinating conjunctions such as "and" and "but." Today's topic is correlative conjunctions, that is, the conjunctions used in pairs to link words, phrases, or clauses. The correlative conjunctions include:
• either . . . or
• neither . . . nor
• both . . . and
• not only . . . but also
• though . . . yet
• whether . . . or
• as . . . as
• if . . . then
• rather . . . than
Here are correlative conjunctions used correctly in sentences.
• Both Joe and Bob are going to the con.
• Neither Joe nor Bob plans to wear Bob's Klingon costume.
• Joe owns a pair of blue gauze wings with sequins, so he will dress either as a fairy or as a butterfly.
• If Joe chooses to dress as a butterfly, then Bob will dress as a cocoon.
• Susan not only wants to wear Joe's wings herself but also is angry that he refused her plea to borrow them.
• Susan has not yet decided whether to wear Bob's Klingon costume or to sew a new costume.
• Joe would rather stay home than wear Bob's ratty Klingon uniform.
A few simple rules govern their use.
1. Use both halves of the conjunction.
Examples of breaking this rule:
• Neither Joe or Bob plans to dress as a Klingon. This is wrong because "neither" pairs with "nor," not "or."
• Susan not only wants to wear Joe's wings herself but is angry that he refused her plea to borrow them. This is wrong because "not only" pairs with "but also," not "but."
• If Joe chooses to dress as a butterfly, Bob will dress as a cocoon. This is wrong because "if" pairs with "then." However, when the meaning is clear, many editors would consider it acceptable to leave out the "then" in an "if . . . then" construction.
2. The two halves of the conjunction should join equal and parallel parts of speech—two nouns, for example, or two prepositional phrases or two predicates.
This rule sounds easy, but in practice, it can be tricky to make the parts of speech equal. Examples of breaking this rule:
• Susan has not yet decided whether to wear Bob's Klingon costume or stay home from the con. This is wrong because the first half of the conjunction introduces a prepositional phrase starting with "to," whereas the second half of the conjunction introduces a predicate. The solution is to add a "to" after the "or."
• Joe plans to wear neither Bob's Klingon costume nor to wear last year's Superman costume. This is wrong because the first part of speech is a noun phrase, whereas the second is a prepositional phrase. The second "to wear" should be cut.
• The study subjects included both 60 Alaskan husky dogs and 170 other breeds. This is wrong because "60 dogs" is not parallel to "170 breeds." One possible fix is, "The study subjects included both 60 Alaskan husky dogs and 350 dogs from 170 other breeds."
3. When "either . . . or" or "neither . . . nor" join subjects, the verb matches the second subject. When both subjects are singular, then the verb is singular, even though there are two subjects.
All of the following are correct sentences:
• Neither I nor my sister is giving the bride a gift.
• Neither my sister nor my brothers are attending the wedding.
• Neither my brothers nor my sister is attending the wedding.
• Either my sister or I am going to tell the bride why.
4. Correlative conjunctions join two elements. Exceptions to this rule can be made for most correlative conjunctions except "neither . . . nor" and "either . . . or."
Examples of breaking this rule:
• On the day of the wedding, my sister plans to be either unavailable, unwell, or unhinged. This is wrong because the conjunction joins three elements. Also, it is impolite to attend a wedding unhinged.
• Neither Joe, Bob, nor Cindy want to wear the Klingon uniform. This is wrong because the conjunction joins three elements.
- guest blog post by Linda Weaver Clarke
- interview with author Steve Malley