Conjunctions 3

Correlative conjunctions

 Correlative Conjunctions  

What are correlative conjunctions?

 Some conjunctions combine with other words to form what are called correlative conjunctions. They always travel in pairs, joining various sentence elements that should be treated as grammatically equal.


・both ... and
・either ... or
・neither ... nor
・hardly ... when
・if ... then
・no sooner ... than
・not only ... but also
・rather ... than
・scarcely ... when
・what with ... and
・whether ... or

 These conjunctions are used when there is a continuous flow of ideas. Therefore, when used in a sentence, correlative conjunctions are not separated by commas (a comma will break the flow).


Incorrect: The Tsunami caused damage not only to property, but also to life.

Correct: The Tsunami caused damage not only to property but also to life.

When joining singular and plural subjects, the subject closest to the verb determines whether the verb is singular or plural.

 both . . . and 

The same kind of words or expressions usually follow both and and.


・She is both beautiful and clever.

Both my grandfather and my father worked in the steel plant.

・She both sings and dances.

Both my sister and my brother play the piano.

 either ... or 

Either … or is used to talk about a choice between two alternatives. 

 "Either" is also a singular adjective. It means one or the other, but not both. "Either" expresses one noun/pronoun doing one thing and the other noun/pronoun doing another; in this way it is a "positive" word because what is occurring is true. "Either" can be paired with "or", but not "nor".


・He must be either mad or drunk.
・We must either go now or stay till the end.


If your element (the words that follow neither or either) is singular, then your verb needs to be singular; if one or both of your elements is plural, then your verb need to be plural.

 neither . . . nor 

 We can use neither and nor to mean ‘also not’. They come at the beginning of a clause, and are followed by inverted word order: auxiliary verb + subject.

This structure is used to join two negative ideas.


・My father can't speak English.
・My mother can't speak English.

Neither my father nor my mother can speak English.

After neither, we use a positive verb to mean a negative idea.


・I don't drink.
・I don't smoke.

・I neither drink nor smoke.
(NOT I neither don't drink nor don't smoke.)

 "Neither" is a singular adjective and can be paired with "nor" in a sentence. "Neither" isnever paired with "or".

  When using "neither" in a sentence, you are saying not the first object and not the second object are behaving in a certain way. The nouns/pronouns are in agreement with one another. "Nor" can also be used independently when negating the second part of two negative clauses.


Neither Corie nor Bob went to the play.
(Corie isn't going to the play. Bob isn't going to the play.

・She said,  "I don't like broccoli." I said,  "Neither do I."
[Neither is used here because she doesn't like broccoli, and I don't like broccoli. (You may hear people say,"Me neither," this is colloquial and not grammatically correct. You wouldn't say, "Me don't like broccoli.")]

・She didn't want to sing, nor did she want to dance.

We can also use not … either with the same meaning and normal word order.


・I can’t speak French. I can’t either.
・John didn’t turn up, and Alice didn’t either.

When two singular nouns are joined by neither…nor, the verb is normally singular, but it can be plural in an informal style.


Neither Alice nor Mary is good at painting. (normal)
Neither Alice nor Mary are good at paiting. (informal)

 whether . . . or 

・Corinne is trying to decide whether to go to medical school or to go to law school.

Similarly, the correlative conjunction "whether ... or" links the two infinitive phrases "to go to medical school" and "to go to law school."


・ Whether you choose to stay, or go is your decision.

Whether you win this race or lose it doesn't matter as long as you do your best.

・Have you decided whether you will come or not?

If vs. Whether

We can generally use both whether and if to introduce indirect yes/no questions. 


・I am not sure whether/if she will come.
・I asked whether/if she had any letters for me.
・I don’t know whether/if I can come or not.

After prepositions only whether is possible. 


・There was a big argument about whether we should move to a new house.
(NOT There was a big argument about if …)

・I haven’t settled the question of whether I should settle abroad.

Before "to-infinitives", only whether is possible.


・They can decide whether to get married now or wait.
 Although in informal writing and speech the two words are often used interchangeably, in formal writing, such as in technical writing at work, it's a good idea to make a distinction between them because the meaning can sometimes be different depending on which word you use.

  The formal rule is to use "if" when you have a conditional sentence and "whether"when you are showing that two alternatives are possible.

Here's an example where the two words could be interchangeable:


・Ken didn't know whether Tom would arrive on Sunday.
・Ken didn't know if Tom would arrive on Sunday.

In either sentence, the meaning is that Tom may or may not arrive on Sunday.

Here are some examples where the words are not interchangeable.


・Ken didn't know whether Tom would arrive on Sunday or Monday.

Because I used whether, you know that there are two possibilities:
Tom will arrive on Sunday or Tom will arrive on Monday.

Now see how the sentence has a different meaning when I use if instead of whether:

・Ken didn't know if Tom would arrive on Sunday or Monday.

 Now in addition to arriving on Sunday or Monday, there is the possibility that Tom may not arrive at all. These last two sentences show why it is best to use whether when you have two possibilities, and that is why I recommend using whether instead of if when you have two possibilities, even when the meaning wouldn't change if you use if. It's safer and more consistent.

・Call Ken if you are going to arrive on Sunday.

・Call Ken whether or not you are going to arrive on Sunday.

The first sentence is conditional. Call Ken if you are going to arrive on Sunday means Tom is only expected to call if he is coming.

The second sentence is not conditional. Call Ken whether or not you are going to arrive on Friday means Tom is expected to call either way.

 not only...but also 

Not only and but also normally go immediately before the words or expressions modified by them.


・The place was not only good, but also safe.
・She is not only a good wife, but also a good mother.
・She speaks not only English, but also French. 

Mid position with verb is also possible.


・She not only speaks English, but also French.

For emphasis not only can be moved to the beginning of a clause.

Note that we use the inverted word order 'not only + auxiliary verb + subject'. But can be left out in some cases.


・She was not only sad, but also angry.
Not only was she sad, she was also angry.

・They not only need food, but also shelter.
Not only do they need food, they also need shelter.

 ... hardly ... when/before ... 

The expression … hardly … when/before … is used (often with a past perfect tense) to suggest that one thing happened very soon after another.


・I had hardly closed my eyes when the phone rang.
・I had hardly closed the door before somebody knocked.
・I had hardly reached the station when the train steamed out.

In a formal or literary style, the structure is sometimes used with an inverted word order.


Hardly had I closed my eyes when the phone rang.
Hardly had I closed the door before somebody knocked.
Hardly had I sat for dinner when the telephone rang.