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To the best of my knowledge, there are seven coordinating conjunctions only five of which can connect nouns, phrases, adjectives, and clauses. That's what they are said to do: connect those things. But how about for and so? Can you make an example where these two are connecting anything but two clauses?

On the other hand, subordinating conjunctions are said to only connect clauses, not nouns, adjectives, etc. But how about this sentence where if is used to connect two adjectives?

It will be difficult if possible at all.

So can we say the following?

  1. So and for as coordinating conjunctions cannot connect nouns/phrases/adjectives, only clauses; and
  2. some subordinating conjunctions can connect more than just clauses.
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  • There are expressions such as money for old rope and the British political scandal Cash-for-questions. Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 8:44
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    @KateBunting But then "for" has a different meaning and is rather a preposition, not a conjunction.
    – fev
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 8:53
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    "It will be difficult if possible at all" is an elliptical form of "It will be difficult if it is possible at all". So it's really linking two clauses except the verb is elided in the latter.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 9:30
  • The coordinate conjunction use of for is moribund in the US. Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 16:59
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    @Robin Your problem stems from the fact that you are relying on old out-of-date grammar. There are only 5 subordinators (your subordinating conjunctions): "that", "for", "to" "whether" and "if ("for" can also serve as a preposition). The sole purpose of subordinators is to mark a clause as subordinate, hence their name. The subordinator "if" occurs in subordinate interrogatives, e.g. "See [if there is someone at the door]". Elsewhere "if" is a preposition.
    – BillJ
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 9:07

1 Answer 1

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Why FANBOYS is nothing but a facile lie

To the best of my knowledge, there are seven coordinating conjunctions....

I’m afraid that your question is based on a false premise. That’s because English does not have seven coordinating conjunctions. This is just a fairytale you were told once. It is not true.

This silliness started because those august guardians of normative written English, the underpaid but well-meaning teachers of English composition, came up with what I’m sure they hoped would be a cute little ditty to serve as a prescriptive mnemonic to try to get their students to mechanically place commas in certain places in written sentences. No thinking required. Nor honesty, either.

As you have yourself noticed, which I imagine is what motivated your question in the first place, this would-be “rule” simply does not pan out. Notice how the quotation from Geoffery Pullum at the bottom of this answer’s References section observes:

A lot of style and grammar guide authors must look at a list of desiderata such as (1) simple, (2) memorizable, and (3) accurate, and think to themselves, two out of three isn't bad.

In this case, two of three certainly is bad:

  1. ✅ Sure it’s simple.
  2. ✅ Sure it’s memorizable.
  3. ❌ But it is also so inaccurate as to be misleading and wrong.

So now we have an entire generation, maybe even two, who have had this incorrect mnemonic drummed into them. Let me repeat: English does not have seven coordinating conjunctions, and the words these composition teachers were all so bothered by do not form such a category in English.

This whole and wholly silly myth is magisterially trounced by Brett Reynolds in his 2006 paper “The Myth of FANBOYS: Coordination, Commas, and College Composition Classes”, whose abstract reads:

The claim that the words for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so (FANBOYS) constitute a complete list of English coordinating conjunctions is examined though syntactic analysis and found wanting. This analysis is presented as an illustration of the need for teachers constantly to question the choice of material that we present to our students and our reasons for presenting it.

I encourage you to read through the entire paper.


Further References with Selected Citations

Ben Zimmer

Ben Zimmer writes in his 2010-05-19 posting to Visual Thesaurus:

Though and, but, or, and nor do indeed form a class of conjunctions joining items of equal syntactic importance, for, yet, and so do not work quite the same way. And even the practical advice of placing a comma before one of the FANBOYS conjunctions doesn't hold in all cases.

Karl Hagen

Karl Hagen writes in his “Comma fanboys” posting to his Polysyllabic blog posting, which he filed under Education, Prescriptivism:

The larger question behind the origin of FANBOYS is why these particular words made it into a list. And, but, or, and nor are (if we ignore some niggling exceptions) clear coordinators, but for, yet, and so have significant differences from the pure coordinators.

It would be interesting to trace the development, in schoolbook grammars, of how the set of coordinating conjunctions is defined over time. A cursory reading of several books that precede the fanboys formulation shows that there is a lot of variation, and that there only thing that really seems to recommend fanboys is that it is catchy rather than accurate. That, however, is a story for another post.

Brett Reynolds

Brett Reynolds writes in his inaugural 2006-07-28 blog post on “The Myth of Fanboys”:

Two recent threads on Language Log, word classes and style guides, brought to mind one thing that baffled me when I began college teaching: FANBOYS. The first time I walked into our writing centre, I noticed that FANBOYS was pasted in large letters across one wall. While many readers may be familiar with FANBOYS, I'd never heard of them, but according to many freshman writing textbooks, FANBOYS is a mnemonic for the co-ordinating conjunctions in English (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, & so). Many style guides go so far as to state that when one of the FANBOYS is used to join two independent clauses, it must be preceded by a comma.

Of course, FANBOYS, as articulated above, is a myth. It is a myth in the sense that it is a fiction created to deal with a uncertain world in a simple way. It’s a myth in the sense that it is a belief that is shared by members of a certain community and, to a certain extent, identifies that community, the community being college composition teachers and their students (insomuch as each individual buys into the myth.) It’s a myth in the sense that it has taken on great import among the community of believers. And finally, it’s a myth in the sense it can serve a gate-keeping function, preserving power for those who know or “understand” it and denying it to those who don’t.

As the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language explains, only and, but, and or are prototypical coordinators, while nor is very close. So and yet share more properties with conjunctive adverbs (e.g., however), and “for...lack(s) most of the properties distinguishing prototypical coordinators from prepositions with clausal complements” (p. 1321). Furthermore, there are other ways to coordinate independent clauses in English.

Geoffery Pullum

Geoffery Pullum writes in his 2006-07-29 posting to Language Log:

Brett Reynolds in the inaugural post of his new blog comments on something that baffled him when he first began college teaching: FANBOYS. I hadn’t heard of this before either. FANBOYS is nothing to do with fangirls. Says Brett:

The first time I walked into our writing centre, I noticed that FANBOYS was pasted in large letters across one wall. While many readers may be familiar with FANBOYS, I’d never heard of them, but according to many freshman writing textbooks, FANBOYS is a mnemonic for the co-ordinating conjunctions in English (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, & so).

This is supposed to be a list of words that pattern alike. (Check it out. They do not.) Much of what traditional grammar says about the purported “co-ordinating conjunctions” is a mess, like what it says about the pseudo-class of “conjunctions” generally; The Cambridge Grammar tries to straighten this out. Brett explains some of the more complex reality very nicely, and he also understands what makes an easily memorized oversimplification so seductive: “it gives the faithful a comfortingly simple handhold in a confusing world.” It does indeed. A lot of style and grammar guide authors must look at a list of desiderata such as (1) simple, (2) memorizable, and (3) accurate, and think to themselves, two out of three isn’t bad.

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  • Related.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 4, 2023 at 14:05
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    The best treatment, even if the question is a duplicate. // For completeness (ha!) / to add to the myth, Wikipedia adds: These [FANBOYS] are not the only coordinating conjunctions; various others are used, including "and nor" (British), "but nor" (British), "neither" ("They don't gamble, neither do they smoke"), "no more" ("They don't gamble, no more do they smoke"), and "only" ("I would go, only I don't have time"). Commented Feb 4, 2023 at 16:32

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