How to Use Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions are pairs of words or phrases, which are used in writing in order to link a couple of ideas, like “both… and,” “either… or,” “neither… nor,” “not… but.” In this article, we are going to describe the use of such phrases.

Here are a few examples of correlative conjunctions:

  • either/or: She could stay either with mom or with dad.
  • neither/nor: Neither the green one nor the yellow are available in this size.
  • not only/but also: Not only was it too hot all day at my birthday but also the guests were late.
  • not/but: The park was known not for its amenities, but for its location.

Pay a special attention to the placement of both components of the conjunction in the sentence and make sure there is a grammatical parallelism.

  • The car is not only economical but also feels good to drive. (Incorrect)
  • The car not only is economical but also feels good to drive. (Correct)

In the first sentence, we place “economical” after not only, whereas but also is followed by “feels good to drive.” The phrases are not grammatically adequate (the first one is an adjective, whereas the second one is a predicate). In the second sentence, we place “is economical” after not only, and but also is followed by “feels good to drive.” The phrases are grammatically adequate as they are both predicates.


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What is the correct placement of a correlative conjunction in the sentence? Here is a tip: if it is used properly, the sentence is still grammatically correct if the conjunction and the text, which it encloses, are removed. For instance, if you remove “either… or” from the sentence “She could stay either with mom or with dad,” we get “She could stay with dad,” which is still correct (although changed in meaning).

Finally, pay special attention to subject-verb agreement in sentences with correlative conjunctions. For sentences with “either...or” and “neither...nor”, which describe two objects or subjects, make sure the verb agrees with the object or subject, which appeals last in the sentence:

  • Neither my friends nor my boyfriend is coming to the party.
  • Neither my boyfriend nor my friends are coming to the party.

In the first example, we use the verb in singular to provide agreement with “boyfriend,” while in the second we use the verb in plural to agree with “friends.”

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