What Are Subordinating Conjunctions? (with Examples)

What Are Subordinating Conjunctions? (with Examples)

A subordinating conjunction is used to link a subordinate clause (also known as a dependent clause) to the main clause (also known as an independent clause).

In each example below, the main clause is in bold, and the subordinating conjunction is shaded.
  • She left early because Mike arrived with his new girlfriend.
  • Keep your hand on the wound until the nurse asks you to take it off.

A List of Common Subordinating Conjunctions

Here is a list of common subordinating conjunctions:

as soon as
by the time
even if
even though
every time
in case
in order that
in the event that
just in case
now that
only if
provided that
rather than
so that
whether or not

The Function of a Subordinating Conjunction

When a sentence has an independent clause (main clause) and at least one dependent clause, it is known as a complex sentence. In a complex sentence, the role of the subordinating conjunction and the dependent clause is to establish a time, a place, a reason, a condition, a concession, or a comparison for the main clause. The subordinating conjunction provides the bridge between the main clause and the dependent clause.

Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions

Below are some common subordinating conjunctions in sentences:

Subordinating ConjunctionCategoryExample
asreasonAs it's raining, I'm staying in.
becausereasonI'm staying in because it's raining.
in order thatreasonIn order that I don't miss the postman, I'm staying in.
sincereasonSince you're going out, I'm staying in.
so thatreasonI'm staying in so that I don't miss the postman.
althoughconcession and comparisonI'm staying in although I'd rather go out.
asconcession and comparison I'm staying in as you should.
even thoughconcession and comparison I'm staying in even though the sun is out.
just asconcession and comparison I'm staying in just as you should.
thoughconcession and comparison I'm staying in though I wish I weren't.
whereasconcession and comparison I'm staying in whereas you are going out.
whileconcession and comparison I'm staying in while you are going out.
even ifconditionEven if it rains, I'm going out.
ifconditionIf it rains, I'm staying in.
in caseconditionI'm staying in in case it rains.
provided thatconditionProvided it doesn't rain, I'm going out.
unlessconditionI'm going out unless it rains.
whereplaceI fish where the waves start to form.
whereverplaceI will live wherever the weather is good.
aftertimeI'm going out after the football.
as soon astimeI'm going out as soon as the football has finished.
as long astimeI'm staying out as long as the weather stays good.
beforetimeI'm going out before the football.
oncetimeI'm going out once the football has finished.
tilltimeI'm staying out till the weather turns bad.
untiltimeI'm staying out until the weather turns bad.
whentimeI'm going out when the weather improves.
whenevertimeI go out whenever the weather is good.
whiletimeI'll stay out while the weather is good.

Subordinating Conjunctions and Commas

When a subordinate clause starts a sentence, it is normal to separate it from the main clause with a comma. For example:
  • If you shoot at mimes, should you use a silencer? (Steven Wright)
When a subordinate clause ends a sentence, you should drop the comma.
  • Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life. (Herbert Henry Asquith, 1852-1928)
A subordinate clause usually gives essential information for the main clause. Therefore, it should not be separated from it with a comma. However, when a subordinate clause is at the start of a sentence, a comma is used because it helps readers by letting them know where the main clause starts.

Exceptions to the Comma Rule

There are a couple of quirks with this ruling:

Quirk 1: You Can Use a Comma for a Deliberate Pause

You should try to resist the temptation to use a comma before a subordinating conjunction. However, if a pause is needed for effect, a comma can be used before the subordinating conjunction. For example:
  • Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons. (Woody Allen)
Quirk 2: You Can Use a Comma before Because If the Main Clause is a Negative idea

To eliminate ambiguity, it is a good practice to use a comma before because if the main clause expresses a negative idea. For example:
  • I am not going, because it's raining.
  • (This means: As it is raining, I am not going. There is no ambiguity. The comma is acceptable.)
  • I am not going because it's raining.
  • (Without the comma, this could mean: The rain is not the reason I am not going. The example below expands on the idea.)
  • I am not going because it's raining. I am not going because I dislike the host.
The comma helps to separate the reason offered by the "because" clause from the word not.
Interactive Test

See Also

What is a dependent clause? What is an independent clause? More about adverbial clauses and commas What are relative pronouns? Glossary of grammatical terms