Correlative conjunctions are used in pairs to link equivalent elements in a sentence.
The most common ones are:
not only...but also
Examples of Correlative Conjunctions
Here are some examples of correlative conjunctions (shaded):
The key learning point in these examples is that correlative conjunctions link equivalent elements.
- I am removing not only your gun but also your permit.
(The equivalent elements being linked are your gun and your permit. They are both noun phrases.)
- It was neither clever nor funny.
(The equivalent elements being linked are clever and funny . They are both adjectives.)
- Either go home or shut up.
(The equivalent elements being linked are go home and shut up. They are both imperative verbs.)
When Using Correlative Conjunctions, Keep a Parallel Structure
When using correlative conjunctions, make sure the elements behind each one are the same type of word (like in the examples above). This is called a parallel structure. Look at these examples:
Read about parallel lists.
- She is not only taking a holiday but also a pay rise.
(In this example, the first half of the conjunction is in front of the main verb (taking) and the second half is in front of a noun phrase (a pay rise). It isn't parallel. It's wrong.)
- She is taking not only a holiday but also a pay rise.
(This version has a parallel structure.)
- She is not only taking a holiday but also getting a pay rise.
(This version also has a parallel structure.)
Subject-Verb Agreement with Correlative Conjunctions
When a correlative conjunction links two elements that are the subject of a verb, the verb is singular if both elements are singular. For example:
However, things get complicated if one of the elements is plural, because there are two conventions:
- Neither the lorry nor the van is available.
(Both elements are singular, so the verb is singular.)
Convention 1 – The Proximity Rule. Under this convention, the element nearest the verb determines whether it is singular or plural. For example:
Convention 2 – The Logic Rule. Under this convention, if any of the elements are plural, the verb is plural. For example:
- Neither the lorry nor the vans are available.
(The element nearest the verb is plural, so the verb is plural.)
Read more about using a singular or plural verb with either…or.
- Neither the lorries nor the van are available.
(The first element is plural, so the verb is plural. This would be wrong using The Proximity Rule.)
Read more about subject-verb agreement.
Neither...Nor Plays a Negative Role
Be aware that the pairing neither…nor plays a negative role in your sentence. Be careful not to use a double negative. For example:
Read more about neither...nor and double negatives.
- I couldn't use neither the lorry nor the van.
- I could use neither the lorry nor the van.
- I couldn't use either the lorry or the van.
What are conjunctions?
What are coordinate conjunctions?
What are subordinating conjunctions?
What are parallel lists?
Using a singular or plural verb with either…or
What is subject-verb agreement?
Avoiding double negatives with neither...nor
Glossary of grammatical terms