EVERYTHING (ALMOST) YOU WANTED TO KNOW (WHO WANTS TO KNOW ABOUT THIS STUFF?), BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK. I am totally html inept, but will do my best to keep this blog supplied with plenty of syntax junk. The main aim here is to help my students (my future colleagues, in fact) come to grips with the syntax of English, even if they can't stand it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

COORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS

There are 3 main coordinating conjunctions:

AND BUT OR

Coordinating conjunctions are mainly used in compound syndetic sentences to link (coordinate) two or more independent ideas, as well as for the purpose of ellipsis (omission of terms to avoid unnecessary repetition). By using coordinating conjunctions this way, sentences are made shorter for objectivity. Grammarians argue over whether there is true ellipsis or mere joining of certain terms.

e.g. JOHN AND PETER DANCED THE TANGO.

This could be interpreted as “John danced the tango and Peter danced the tango”, thus proving the use of AND for ellipsis. However, this may be interpreted as the simple joining of two nouns, “John and Peter”. This may indicate that John and peter danced together. In syntax, this would then be considered a compound subject.

Others words may be used as coordinating conjunctions:

e.g. PRICING BABIES SOUNDS ODD, BUT IT IS BECOMING MORE COMMON WHEN PLANNING A FAMILY.
- “but” joins two independent clauses, but shows an idea of contrast between them
- The independent clause “Pricing babies sounds odd” is linked to the other independent clause “it is becoming more common”.

In the example above, “yet” could substitute the coordinating conjunction “but”. It (yet) would work as a coordinating conjunction for contrast, despite the fact that it is generally defined as an adverb. Other words that can function as coordinating conjunctions include: as well as, however, in addition to, together with, therefore, nor, while etc.

Coordinating conjunctions can only link ideas of equal nature (2+ nouns, 2+ verbs, 2+ clauses, 2+ phrases, 2+ dependent clauses, 2+ appositives etc). This connection is known as syndetic:

e.g. I LIKE PLAYING GOLF AND SOCCER.
- The noun “golf” is linked (coordinated) to the other noun “soccer” by the coordinating conjunction “and” (two nouns/direct objects are coordinated).

Another interpretation is that “I like playing” is in ellipsis in the second sentence, that is:

e.g. I LIKE PLAYING GOLF AND I LIKE PLAYING SOCCER.
Coordination is used for ellipsis to avoid such tiresome repetition (two clauses are coordinated).

Recalling that coordinating conjunctions can only link ideas of equal nature, in the first example two nouns were coordinated. In the second example, two clauses were coordinated.

e.g. IF TRAINEES WERE ALLOWED AND IF THEY KNEW WHAT TO DO, WE COULD GIVE THIS TASK AND OTHER NASTY JOBS TO THEM.
- The two dependent clauses “If trainees were allowed” and “if they knew what to do” are linked by the coordinating conjunction “and”.
- The two noun phrases (two direct objects) “this task” and “other nasty jobs” are linked by the coordinating conjunction “and”

e.g. THE EQUIPMENT AVAILABLE, COMPUTER MONITORS AND KEYBOARDS, WAS BEING SOLD AT VERY REASONABLE PRICES.
- The two appositives "computer monitors" and "keyboards" are linked by the coordinating conjunction "and".

e.g. THE JANITOR, THE CARETAKER, THE DOORMAN OR THE SUPERVISOR WILL HAVE TO COVER FOR THE GARAGE ATTENDANT NEXT WEEK.
- The noun phrase (subject) "the supervisor" is coordinated to the previous three noun phrases (also subjects).

SYNDETIC – common use of coordinators

In English, SYNDETIC coordination is possible when there are two ideas, but not so common if there are more than two. With three or more coordinated ideas, it is more common to apply an ASYNDETIC structure with a coordinator between the last two elements.

e.g. WE WENT TO PARIS AND MOSCOW. SYNDETIC USE
WE WENT TO PARIS AND MOSCOW AND STOCKHOLM. NOT COMMON*
WE WENT TO PARIS, MOSCOW AND STOCKHOLM. ASYNDETIC

* This is excessive use of coordinators in English. Young children often speak this way. “Today we played soccer and we painted flowers and we fed the rabbits and we went to mall and we had lunch at McDonalds and we…etc”. This is not desirable in English, especially written English.

ASYNDETIC – used to avoid using coordinators

This is more common in English due to the pure objectivity of the language. In sentences with more than 2 ideas, rather than repeat the coordinating conjunction, it is more common to use commas, semi-colons and full colons to shorten (see explanation of ELLIPSIS) ideas.

e.g. ASYNDETIC - Goulash is a Hungarian dish that contains paprika, sour cream, pepper, salt, curry and meat.
SYNDETIC - Goulash is a Hungarian dish that contains paprika and contains sour cream and contains pepper and contains salt and contains curry and contains meat.
The SYNDETIC example above shows the excessive use of the coordinator “and”, which, when used correctly, is referred to as POLYSUNDETIC (see below). In this case, an ASYNDETIC form is less repetitive and more objective.

POLYSYNDETIC

This is the excessive, but CORRECT USE of a syndetic structure (coordinators) aimed at causing an effect, usually of excessiveness (repetition, continuity etc.).

e.g. He just talks and talks and talks. (Non-stop talking)
The movie went on and on and on. (The movie was very long)
They always want ice cream or chips or to go to the park or to watch TV. (They always want something)

COMPOUND SENTENCES

Compound sentences are made up of at least two simple sentences. There must be at least two independent ideas, that is, independent clauses. A compound sentence occurs when independent clauses are linked by coordinating conjunctions.

e.g. I HAD THE SAME IDEA, BUT I DIDN’T WRITE IT DOWN.
- "I had the same idea" is an independent clause
- "I didn’t write it down" is an independent clause

Coordinating conjunctions are not included, that is, are not considered part of the simple sentences that constitute a compound sentence. They merely link two simple sentences, forming a compound sentence.

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