What Are Subordinating Conjunctions? (with Examples)

Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions are used to link subordinate clauses (also known as a dependent clauses) to main clauses (also known as an independent clauses).

subordinating conjunction explanation

The role of a 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.

Easy Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions

In each example below, the subordinating conjunction is in bold, and the subordinate clause is shaded. (The normal text is the main clause.)
  • Keep your hand on the wound until the bleeding stops.
  • (The subordinate clause sets a time.)
  • Steve will sleep wherever there's a bed.
  • (The subordinate clause sets a place.)
  • She left early because Tony arrived with his new girlfriend.
  • (The subordinate clause sets a reason.)
  • If it rains, the bet is off.
  • (The subordinate clause sets a condition.)
  • Even though she's skint, she'll still look a million dollars.
  • (The subordinate clause sets a concession.)
  • I will succeed whereas you will fail.
  • (The subordinate clause sets a comparison.)
A subordinating conjunction provides a bridge between the main clause and the subordinate clause.

A List of Common Subordinating Conjunctions

Here is a list of common subordinating conjunctions:

after
although
as
as soon as
because
before
by the time
even if
even though
every time
if
in case
in order that
in the event that
just in case
now that
once
only if
provided that
rather than
since
so that
than
that
though
until
when
whenever
where
whereas
wherever
whether
whether or not
while
why

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 dependent clause establishes 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.)

Real-Life Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions

  • I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. (Comedian Groucho Marx)
  • (The subordinate clause establishes a time for the main clause.)
  • Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity. (Greek physician Hippocrates)
  • (The subordinate clause establishes a place for the main clause.)
  • People are more violently opposed to fur than leather because it's safer to harass rich women than motorcycle gangs.
  • (The subordinate clause establishes a reason for the main clause.)
  • Man is ready to die for an idea, provided that idea is not quite clear to him. (Author Paul Eldridge)
  • (The subordinate clause establishes a condition for the main clause.)
  • I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught. (Sir Winston Churchill)
  • (The subordinate clause establishes a concession for the main clause.)
  • Everyone else my age is an adult whereas I am merely in disguise. (Poet Margaret Atwood)
  • (The subordinate clause establishes a comparison for the main clause.)
With one dependent clause and one main clause, these are all complex sentences.

Read more about the different types of sentence.

Some More Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions

Below are some more examples of subordinating conjunctions in sentences. Remember that the role of the subordinating conjunction and subordinate clause is to establish a time, a place, a reason, a condition, or a concession for the main clause. This means the clauses in bold are all functioning as adverbs. They're all adverbial clauses.

Subordinating
Conjunction
CategoryExample
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.

Why Should I Care about Subordinating Conjunctions?

As a native English speaker, you don't need to worry about whether your subordinating conjunction is heading up a clause that establishes a time, a place, a reason, a condition, or a concession. You'll do that bit naturally.

The most common question related to subordinating conjunctions is whether to offset the subordinate clause with a comma or not. Here's the guidance.

(Point 1) Put a comma after a fronted adverbial clause.

When a subordinate clause functioning as an adverb starts a sentence, separate it from the main clause with a comma.
  • If you shoot at mimes, should you use a silencer? (Comedian Steven Wright)
  • Now that I'm over sixty, I'm veering toward respectability. (Actress Shelley Winters)
These are often called fronted adverbial clauses. A comma is used with a fronted adverbial clause because the comma makes it clear where the main clause starts.

(Point 2) Don't use a comma if your adverbial clause is at the back.

When a subordinate clause ends a sentence, you can drop the comma.
  • Should you use a silencer if you shoot at mimes?
  • I'm veering toward respectability now that I'm over sixty.
There's a quirk though: You can use a comma for a deliberate pause.
  • Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons. (Film director Woody Allen)
  • Man is ready to die for an idea, provided that idea is not quite clear to him.
If you were told at school that a comma represents a pause, then your teacher was giving you reading advice not writing advice. There are specific rules on using commas and "to create a pause" isn't one of them, even though you'd likely whack in a few accurate commas if you adopted that rule. That said, this is a time when a comma can be used to create a pause. That's why it's a quirk. It's also pretty common.

Okay, let's complicate the issue a bit. The rule that states "drop the comma when your adverbial clause ends a sentence" is not really a rule. In fact, the rule for post-positioned adverbial clauses (as they're called) is the same as for post-positioned adjective clauses. In other words, use a comma if the adverbial clause is nonessential (i.e., you'd happily put it in brackets or delete it). The problem is that it's flippin' way more difficult to decide whether an adverbial clause is essential or nonessential than it is with an adjective clause. As the vast majority of adverbial clauses are essential, it's pretty safe, but not entirely safe, to declare that a post-positioned adverbial clause isn't preceded by a comma.

Read more about using commas with post-positioned adverbial clauses.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited and printed to create exercise worksheets.

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