Subordinating Conjunctions

What Are Subordinating Conjunctions?

A subordinating conjunction is a word that links a subordinate clause to a main clause. For example:
  • You must leave the ball before the clock strikes midnight..
  • (In this example, the subordinating conjunction is "before." It is part of the subordinate clause "before the clock strikes midnight.")
The main role of a subordinating conjunction and the subordinate clause is to establish a time, a place, a reason, or a condition for the main clause. For example:


  • You can stay at the ball until the clock strikes midnight..


  • The carriage will be waiting where it dropped you..


  • You must do as I say because your gown will turn back to rags..


  • The horse and carriage will be gone if you are late..
In all the examples in this lesson, the subordinate clauses (also known as dependent clauses) are highlighted. The subordinating conjunctions are all bold. Remember that the role of a subordinating conjunction is to join the subordinate clause to the main clause. (The main clause is always an independent clause, i.e., a clause that can stand alone as a sentence.)
subordinating conjunction explanation

Table of Contents

  • A List of Common Subordinating Conjunctions
  • Easy Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions
  • Find the Subordinating Conjunction Test
  • Real-Life Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions
  • More Examples Showing the Role of Subordinating Conjunctions
  • Why Subordinating Conjunctions Are Important
  • Test Time!
When a sentence has a main clause (an independent clause) and at least one subordinate clause, it is known as a complex sentence.

A List of Common Subordinating Conjunctions

Here is a list of common subordinating conjunctions. Notice that a subordinating conjunction can be more than one word.
  • 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

Easy Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions

Here are some example sentences with subordinating conjunctions.
  • 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.)
Subordinate clauses can also establish concessions and comparisons:
  • Even though she has no money, she will still look a million dollars.
  • (The subordinate clause sets a concession. Concession is an unusual concept when you first encounter it. The subordinate clauses of concession are "even though," "although," and "though.")
  • I will succeed whereas you will fail.
  • (The subordinate clause sets a comparison.)

Find the Subordinating Conjunction Test

It's your go! Select the subordinating conjunction.

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 main clause and one subordinate clause, every example above is a complex sentence.

More Examples Showing the Role of Subordinating Conjunctions

Here 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.
whereplaceI fish where the waves start to form.
whereverplaceI will live wherever the weather is good.
aftertimeI'm going out after the football has finished.
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 rain starts.
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.
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.
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.
althoughconcessionI'm staying in although I'd rather go out.
thoughconcessionI'm staying in though I wish I weren't.
even thoughconcessionI'm staying in even though the sun is out.
ascomparisonI'm staying in as you should.
just ascomparisonI'm staying in just as you should.
whereascomparisonI'm staying in whereas you are going out.
whilecomparisonI'm staying in while you are going out.

Why Subordinating Conjunctions Are Important

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.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.