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As I understand it, 'for' is a coordinating conjunction. Learning German as a second language has taught me specifics about reforming sentences, but it is an awful lot less common in English. If I were to rearrange the sentence: "I ate lunch, for I was hungry," so that 'for' was the first word of the sentence, by my reckoning I should end up with "For that I was hungry, I ate lunch." Does this new sentence have any grammatical errors? I inserted the word 'that' after 'for', because without it the sentence didn't sound right. Should I have? Is there a rule for that? Thank you in advance, an aspiring author.

Additional Information: I am not having problems with the sentence, this is a general question to increase my knowledge of the manipulations of coordinating conjuntions.

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  • Re-arranging using for does not sound grammatical in my ears. A stilted example could be "To still my hunger, I ate lunch"
    – mplungjan
    Jan 1, 2014 at 11:02

2 Answers 2

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You are right that for is a coordinating conjunction, the first of the so-called FANBOYS. But you cannot move a coordinated clause (starting with a FANBOY) to the front of a sentence:

I was hungry, so I ate.

*So I ate, I was hungry.

It is the same in German:

Ich habe gegessen, denn ich hatte Hunger.

*Denn ich Hunger hatte, habe ich gegessen.

However, you can move a clause with a subordinating conjunction to the front:

Because I was hungry, I ate.

Da ich Hunger hatte, habe ich gegessen.

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    I question the claim that for Is a coordinator. It means because, which is undeniably a subordinator. In the ‘Cambridge Grammar of English’ (which is not the CGEL), Carter and McCarthy include for in a list of subordinators and write explicitly in another part of the book that it is a subordinating conjunction. Jan 1, 2014 at 11:38
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    @Barrie, Yes, the Cambridge Grammar is correct in noting that, like other subordinating conjunctions, for indicates "a dependent relationship between the clauses [it introduces] and the main clause" (p488). But it behaves differently from the others the CG lists in that cannot be fronted, which I think is the OP's main concern. As an aside, using for to mean because feels rather old-fashioned to me, and much more likely to be encountered in stories than everyday spoken English.
    – Shoe
    Jan 1, 2014 at 11:55
  • It is, and for that reason OP needs to be careful about using it. Jan 1, 2014 at 12:57
  • @Shoe, can you tell me of some good references to learn more about the distinction between subordinating and coordinating conjunctions and the clauses they are respectively said to subordinate and coordinate? Jan 28, 2020 at 16:15
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For, as a coordinating conjunction, is rarely used to begin a sentence, for its function is to introduce the reason for the preceding clause. Putting the reason before the preceding clause makes it awkward, unless you use one of its substitutes - because, or use and after the comma.

For I was hungry, I ate lunch.
For I was hungry, and I ate lunch. (doesn't stand alone well, and sounds antiquated)
Because I was hungry, I ate lunch.

There are, however, well known sentences beginning with that (in essence) 'coordinating conjunction':

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and...
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God...

For is more common as a preposition, and much easier to use as a sentence starter:

For most of Haiti's citizens, living conditions are very bad.

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  • Yes; one can consider structures like 'For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God ...' to be sentence fragments. If clear in meaning and not overdone, quite acceptable. Dec 19, 2015 at 16:21
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    +1 The classic example of for as a coordinating conjunction gone wild occurs in the portion of Christopher Smart's long poem Jubilate Agno commonly known as "My Cat Jeoffry," in which 74 consecutive lines (and sentences) start with the word for acting as a coordinating conjunction.
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 20, 2015 at 1:20

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