If you want to succeed at TOEFL, there is no way to avoid using conjunctions. They are, quite frankly, some of the most important words in the English language. Conjunctions are the glue that holds sentences together, and without them your language will be incredibly basic. Without conjunctions, you could only express ideas in very simple clauses that fit together awkwardly.
Most people learn conjunctions from an early age, even if they don’t know it. When you were first learning English, you probably learned to use “and” and “because.” These are both examples of conjunctions and they are pretty easy to use, even if you don’t know that the first one is a coordinating conjunction and the second is a subordinating conjunction.
If you want to get your grammar to a high enough standard to achieve a great TOEFL score, then you are going to need to work on mastering conjunctions. In today’s article, I will explain what you need to know about these vital parts of the English language.
What are conjunctions?
At its most basic, a conjunction is a word (or phrase) that joins together other words or clauses. These are the parts of speech that allow us to link together our ideas into longer, more complex sentences. They can help us to show the relationship between different words to express much greater meaning, thereby vastly improving the quality of our language.
Look at the following passage:
- It is better to save money. Don’t spend it all immediately. Think about the future. You might need to save. You might need to buy a house. It’s tempting to spend it now. Don’t. Be responsible.
That sounds terrible! All the sentences are very short and they are not joined together. Let’s look at how we could use some conjunctions to vastly improve it:
- It is better to save money than spent it all immediately. Think about the future because you might need to save so that you can buy a house. Even though it’s tempting to spend it now, you shouldn’t; instead, you should be responsible.
This passage reads so much better because the ideas are all inked with different kinds of conjunction.
The most common type of conjunction that you will encounter is the coordinating conjunction, which is best remembered by the mnemonic device, FANBOYS:
These words can join together independent clauses in a compound sentence as well as other ideas.
There are also subordinating conjunctions, which bring together independent and dependent clauses in a complex sentence. Examples include “if,” “when,” and “because.” This marks the beginning of a dependent clause, and tells the reader that it is less important than the main clause.
Conjunctions don’t just link ideas together randomly. They also tell the reader or listener what the relationship between these ideas is. If I said, “He was hungry because he had not eaten in twelve hours,” then the reader or listener knows that the second idea is the cause of the first. The relationship is cause and effect.
When words or phrases in a sentence are of equal grammatical value, they can be united by a coordinating conjunction. These are the words that I explained above can be remembered as “FANBOYS.” The most common of these are “and” and “but,” but all of them are quite frequently used in daily English or even academic writing.
These words appear frequently through all parts of the TOEFL exam and so you must be absolutely familiar with them in order to stand a chance of success. Here is an example of how they may be used. The question is from the speaking test and asks for a suggestion of a place to visit.
- They really should visit the museum of modern art, but I don’t know if they would have enough time after all those other places. There is also the big park, and they could probably squeeze in a visit to the natural history museum or the zoo. There are a lot of places to see, so it’s really important to plan carefully.
In the above example, you can see that four different coordinating conjunctions have been used. These link the ideas together appropriately, and producing that sort of language without those conjunctions would really be quite difficult. The sentences would be short and choppy, and it would sound very childish.
While coordinating conjunctions join together ideas of equal value, subordinating conjunctions send a subtle signal to the listener or reader that one of the clauses is more important than the other. The word also gives important information about the relationship between the ideas that are being joined together, and these can be more complex than coordinating conjunctions.
Here is a list of some common subordinating conjunctions, although it should be remembered that there are many, many more:
- Even though
These can signal contrast, cause and effect, or some other kinds of relationship between the parts of the sentence. It is important to know the precise meaning of each conjunction before you attempt to use it or else you may make a confusing mistake.
To answer a TOEFL speaking question about an ideal career, someone might say the following:
- If I could choose any career, I would definitely be an architect. Even though I’m not qualified to do it, the whole idea of the profession really attracts me. Whereas engineering is really technical, architecture is more creative. Of course, it is too late for me to switch courses now since I’m already halfway through my engineering studies.
You can see that four different subordinating conjunctions have been used in the above passage, each to a different effect. The first three are used at the beginning of a sentence, and the fourth appears second in the sentence. When the dependent (or subordinate) clause comes first, it is followed by a comma. When it comes second, there should be no comma between the clauses.
Should you start a sentence with a conjunction?
As you can see from my previous examples, it is perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with a subordinating conjunction, but there is a heated debate over whether you should do the same with a coordinating conjunction. Traditionally, this was considered a mistake and people were taught not to begin a sentence with words like “and” or “but.” Nowadays, it is quite common in informal writing although people still avoid it in formal text. As such, you should probably try not to use these words at the beginning of a sentence for your TOEFL writing, but don’t worry about beginning a sentence with them for your speaking test.
If you are worried or confused about your use of conjunctions, you might benefit from our TOEFL writing correction service.