What Are Correlative Conjunctions? (with Examples)
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What Are Correlative Conjunctions? (with Examples)

Correlative conjunctions are used in pairs to link equivalent elements in a sentence.

The most common ones are:

  • either...or
  • neither...nor
  • not only...but also
  • so...as
  • Examples of Correlative Conjunctions

    Here are some examples of correlative conjunctions (shaded):

    • 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.)
    The key learning point in these examples is that correlative conjunctions link equivalent elements.

    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:

    • 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.)
    Read about parallel lists.

    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:

    • Neither the lorry nor the van is available.
    • (Both elements are singular, so the verb is singular.)
    However, things get complicated if one of the elements is plural because there are two conventions:

    Convention 1 – The Proximity Rule. Under this convention, the element nearest the verb determines whether it is singular or plural. For example:

    • Neither the lorry nor the vans are available.
    • (The element nearest the verb is plural, so the verb is plural.)
    Convention 2 – The Logic Rule. Under this convention, if any of the elements are plural, the verb is plural. For example:

    • 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 using a singular or plural verb with either…or.
    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:

    • 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.
    Read more about neither...nor and double negatives.



    See also:

    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
     
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