Is the word 'though' a preposition or conjunction? I am aware that in CGEL (and potentially in other bodies of reference, too) words that are traditionally considered 'subordinating conjunctions' (e.g. though, although, unless, etc.) are subsumed under the category of speech of 'prepositions'.

However, insofar as I can see, there is nothing about 'though' that distinguishes it from 'but' as a preposition. Both introduce contrasts and both take clauses as complements (and both can take verbless clauses, too; e.g. 'Though tall, he was not good at basketball' and 'He was intelligent but unkind'). What is it about 'though' that makes it a preposition, and what is it about 'but' that makes it a conjunction?

  • @BillJ: ?...... Nov 17, 2021 at 22:18
  • 1
    "But tall, he was not good at basketball" sounds weird to me, so I don't think but and though are interchangeable. Otherwise, if this is specifically about CGEL please say exactly what it says, exactly what you disagree with, and give references.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 18, 2021 at 0:22
  • Though introduces a subordinate clause that presupposes, while but introduces a coordinate clause that asserts. Both have a presupposition of surprise or unexpected phenomena, but they do different jobs. As far as prepositions are concerned, it doesn't make any difference what you call something; as long as you have rules that predict their behavior, call them anything you like. But the rules come before the names; without rules it's just handwaving. Nov 18, 2021 at 4:42

1 Answer 1


First off, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language does not recognize 'conjunction' as a part of speech. All items categorized under that heading by dictionaries are either subordinators, coordinators, or prepositions depending on their syntactic properties.

The two examples you gave do not have though and but serving the same function, and can illustrate some of the differences between the two.

[Though tall], he was not good at basketball. - concessive adjunct (PP)

He was [[intelligent] [but unkind]] - coordination in predicative complement function with 2nd coordinate marked by but (AdjPs)

While maintaining the same meaning, Though could not be removed, whereas but can.

Tall, he was not good at basketball.

= He was not good at basketball because he was tall.

He was intelligent, unkind.

= no change in meaning

The adjunct headed by though could be moved around, whereas the coordinate marked by but cannot.

He was, though tall, not good at basketball.

He was not good at basketball, though tall.

*But unkind, he was intelligent.

*He was(,) but unkind, intelligent.

In summary,

  • but acting as a coordinator cannot occur in initial position in a coordination, and the coordinate it marks cannot be moved out of the coordination it is a part of,

  • though heads PPs that act as concessive adjuncts which can be moved.

There are other differences as well, for example that but cannot occur with another coordinator, but though can occur with one.

It was a feeble joke, and though Anna laughed, she felt the tears spring to her eyes without warning. (Departures; McCorkle, Jill; Atlantic 1991)

*It was a feeble joke, and but Anna laughed, she felt the tears spring to her eyes without warning.

For a full discussion of the properties of coordinators, prepositions, and the reasons why CGEL draws the lines where they do, it is essential to refer to the text itself (Ch. 15, §2.1).

  • Who cares what CGEL recognizes? They are authorities, but they are not THE authority. Most linguists don't accept their definitions or limitations or terminology. Or categories. So just citing chapter and verse doesn't really help. Nov 18, 2021 at 19:13
  • 1
    @JohnLawler The asker obviously cares. The arguments for categorizing though as a preposition are well established and reasonable when viewed through a comprehensive grammatical framework of the English language such as the one described in CGEL. Of course, in order to discuss that categorization intelligently, one would actually have to read the arguments for it and appreciate them in the context of that wider framework, hence the recommendation that the asker refers to the text itself.
    – DW256
    Nov 19, 2021 at 4:11
  • 1
    @JohnLawler But we might care why they recognise what they do. This respondent gives good explanations relating to why "conjunction" is not helpful here. I think you'd agree, really. Their prepositions which take clausal complements are complementizers in your grammar. Their coordinators are your co-ordinating conjunctions. But you'd not use complemetizer and coordinating conjunction interchangeably. Nov 19, 2021 at 4:52
  • Thank you for your response, @DW256.
    – Eric
    Nov 20, 2021 at 20:45
  • @JohnLawler. CGEL is by no means THE authority, yes, but they are definitive, and many of their analyses are backed up with coherent arguments
    – Eric
    Nov 20, 2021 at 20:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.