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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Jun 29th, 2009, 03:08 pm
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Default Coordinating vs subordinating conjunctions

I have a question about the transition signals (for reasons) that I hope Susan and others can address. People view "for" as a coordinating conjunction, while "because", "since" and "as" as a subordinating conjunction. I understand (I think) the difference between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions but I'm not sure why "for" is a coordinating conjunction while the other three are subordinating. As far as I can tell, when I think of sentences with "because", "since" or "as", these could easily be substituted by "for". Am I right on this? If so, what makes "for" a coordinating conjunction and not a subordinating conjunction, etc?

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Unread Jun 30th, 2009, 03:54 am
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Default Re: Coordinating vs subordinating conjunctions

This is what happens when you try and "force" words into predetermined grammatical classes - they don't always fit properly. In fact, they often don't fit properly.

In the Grammar of Contemporary English Quirk et al say of for that it is "On the gradient between the "pure" co-ordinators and the "pure" subordinators." - ie it doesn't fit perfectly into either category. In fact, they cite and and or as being the only co-ordinators that perfectly follow the rule - ie we have a grammatical class of two items!

It helps if you stop thinking that a word "is" a member of a specific class, but that in a specific sentence it may function in a particular way - a clear example is that hard or fast may function as adjectives or adverbs.

If you look at the rules for co-ordinators and sub-ordinators, you can see that for will sometimes function as one and sometimes as the other. These following are just examples of how, grammatically, it sometimes seems to be one and sometimes the other. I'll use and and or as my examples of co-ordinators and because as my example of a subordinator. An asterisk means that the sentence is incorrect.

Some ways in which for acts as a co-ordinator :

a) co-ordinators always come between two ideas. The order of the ideas can be switched around but the co-ordinator stays put. Subordinators, on the other hand, are attached to one of the ideas and can be moved with it. So :
It was an excellent place for a stroll, because it was seldom crowded
Because it was seldom crowded, it was an excellent place for a stroll.

But :
John came in and David went out.
*And David went out, John came in


Here, for would seem to act in the same way as a co-ordinator - ie like and :
It was an excellent place for a stroll, for it was seldom crowded
*For it was seldom crowded, it was an excellent place for a stroll


b) A co-ordinator can never be preceded by another co-ordinator, whereas a sub-ordinator can have a co-ordinator in front of it :

It was an excellent place for a stroll, because it was seldom crowded and because it was so beautiful
* You can go now, or you can wait till tomorrow, and or you can go on Wednesday

Again, for seems to follow the rules for co-ordinators :
*It was an excellent place for a stroll, for it was seldom crowded and for it was so beautiful.

So, here you can see that although for has the same meaning as because, since and as (subordinators) with their causal meanings, syntactically it's not identical to them.

for as a subordinator :

But neither is it completely identical to co-ordinators. For example, when there is co-ordination, if the subject in the second clause is identical to the subject in the first clause, it can be omitted. So in :
He was concentrating on his work and he didn't see me.
the repetition of he in the second clause is unnecessary :
He was concentrating on his work and didn't see me.
With subordination this is not possible :
He didn't see me because he was concentrating on his work.
*He didn't see me because was concentrating on his work.


Here, for would seem to follow the rule for sub-ordinators :
*It was an excellent place for a stroll, for was seldom crowded.

So, we have some instances of For functioning as a co-ordinator, and another of it functioning as a subordinator. It can also function as a sentence connector :

You'll need to stop and rest. For it's a long walk by anyone's standards.

(If anyone is saying Oh but ... to this, I agree with you. For me it's still a co-ordinator here. But explaining why would make the post too long, and is outside the original question so I'm following Quirk et al and will leave it at that)

and of course as a preposition - I'm looking for John - though I've presumed you were talking about its causal meaning.

All this leaves dictionary writers (rather than grammar writers who should be able to point out the problems) with a dilemma. In a sentence like He left sadly, for he had still so much to say, how do they classify it? You couldn't move the for clause to the beginning so it's not a subordinator, but you can't omit the he so it's not a co-ordinator. In the end they just have to plump for one or the other or hedge. The Collins Cobuild Dictionary calls it a subordinating conjunction, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English just calls it a conjunction.

Hope that clarifies a bit..
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Last edited by susan53 : Jun 30th, 2009 at 05:06 am.
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Unread Jun 30th, 2009, 01:03 pm
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Default Re: Coordinating vs subordinating conjunctions

Thanks Susan Knew I could count on you!
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Unread Mar 20th, 2012, 01:44 pm
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Default Re: Coordinating vs subordinating conjunctions

Hi, the same situation applies to But and While/Whereas. of course, the hints in the answer were very useful but can't we have a definition of what a subordinating clause is?
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Unread Mar 22nd, 2012, 01:06 am
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Default Re: Coordinating vs subordinating conjunctions

Hi, What is the definition and criteria to separate clauses to coordinate and subordinate? For example while and whereas are considered as subordinating conjunctions but in the sentence below we can change the place of clauses without any alteration in meaning:
I am a teacher while you are a student.
You are a student while I am a teacher.
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Unread May 3rd, 2012, 04:33 pm
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Default Re: Coordinating vs subordinating conjunctions

Rashid said : but can't we have a definition of what a subordinating clause is? That's easy - it's one which can't stand on its own. It may be introduced by a conjunction - eg because, by a wh- word (eg relative pronouns), inversion or by a non- finite verb - etc etc, but in any case it makes no sense without an attached main clause. Some examples ...

Seeing the number 10
because he was late
Had I known

These only make sense if you add another, main clause :

Seeing the number 10, he suddenly remembered the appointment
He skipped breakfast, because he was late
Had I known, I wouldn't have come.

As for the distinction between co-ordinating and subordinating conjunctions, well that's defined in my previous message. The problem is that it's not absolute. there are some words (like "for") which "sometimes seem to act as co-ordinators and sometimes like subordinators. Quirk et al (Grammar of Contemporary English, Longman) describe it as a gradient, with the "pure" co-ordinators at one end and the "pure" subordinatiors at the other, but with various items in the middle - acting sometimes like co-ordinators and sometimes like subordinators. So sorry, Rashid, but no - there is no clear cut distinction.
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Unread May 5th, 2012, 02:12 am
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Default Re: Coordinating vs subordinating conjunctions

Hi and thank you so much for your reply. Indeed, I think the best way to illuminate the students is to lead them towards the definition of sub and co-ordinating sentences which works all the time. which relative or connector does this function will be configured by themselves according to any sentence they are faced. of course, the categorization you mentioned at last is useful too. so, I think once more, the importance of semantical approach is obvious and it is a leading measure in most grammatical issues. and this phenomenon happens in many English words functioning in several ways. But what about "while and whereas" in the sentences I mentioned previously? are they coordinating in the sentences written? and, if so, why aren't they regarded as one of coordinating ones either?
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Unread May 6th, 2012, 06:14 am
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Default Re: Coordinating vs subordinating conjunctions

While/Whereas meet none of the criteria for co-ordinators mentioned above. Eg:
1) A co-ordinator cannot be preceded by another co-ordinator. While/whereas can : Dogs seem more intelligent than cats, but whereas dogs etc etc
2) Co-ordinators allow ellipsis of repeated items in the second clause, but subordinators don't. So : I love ironing but hate cleaning the house (I is repeated and therefore can be omitted), but you can't say : *I love ironing while hate cleaning the house - you must repeat the I : I love ironing while I hate cleaning the house.

There are other criteria (a good grammar will list them for you) - but while/whereas meet none of them. So, we have and, but, or as "pure" co-ordinators, while/whereas/although and many others as "pure" sub-ordinators, and other words (for, so, then) which appear to be in the middle - acting in some ways like co-ordinators and in some ways like subordinators. Notice though that these are syntactic criteria and not, as you say, semantic. Semantic criteria have nothing to do with the distinction. many expressions may be similar semantically but belong to completely different word/syntactic classes.
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Unread May 8th, 2012, 11:25 pm
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Default Re: Coordinating vs subordinating conjunctions

Hi dear Susan. Thank you for your illuminating answer. Applying the standards you have given the distinction between sub and co-ordinating relatives is clear. But using semantic standard, I meant to know whether the standards you mentioned comply with the semantic definition of Co and Subordinate sentences and what is the definition of them indeed? As you showed in previous answer, what I know at present about subordinate sentences is that they don't have independent meaning and we can't understand them unless they are completed by another sentence which is called main clause. So with this understanding I wonder whether the two clauses used in "while" sentence, for example, are main and sub clause or both of them are main clauses. For, if you separate them, each will have its own independent meaning.
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