How to Use Subordinating Conjunctions in Your Writing

By: Sascha Bos  | 
Subordinating conjunctions sound like they'd be difficult to grasp, but they're a breeze once you understand pieces of this grammatical puzzle. Phynart Studio / Getty Images

We use subordinating conjunctions all the time, often without even knowing what they are. But how exactly do they work?

In this article, we'll define subordinating conjunction and provide examples.


What Are Subordinating Conjunctions?

Subordinating conjunctions, also known as subordinators and subordinate conjunctions, are words that introduce subordinate clauses in complex sentences.

What Is a Conjunction?

A conjunction is any word that joins together other words, phrases or clauses. (In the sentence you just read, "or" is the conjunction.)


The lyrics to the 1973 song "Conjunction Junction" from the series "Schoolhouse Rock!" explains conjunctions perfectly: "Conjunction Junction, what's your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses."

What Is a Subordinate Clause?

A subordinate clause, also known as a dependent clause, is a clause that depends on another clause, phrase or sentence element. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar, there are three traditional types of subordinate or dependent clauses:

  1. Adverbial clauses modify a verb. For example: She'll come when she's ready.
  2. Nominal clauses function like a noun. For example: To err is human.
  3. Relative clauses (aka adjective clause) connect clauses using relative pronouns (who, whom, whose, which). For example: The chef, whom I adore, is preparing a special meal for us.

Independent clauses, on the other hand, can stand alone as a (short) sentence.


Common Subordinating Conjunctions

These are some of the most common subordinating conjunctions you'll see linking two clauses in a complex sentence:

Cause Conjunctions

Cause conjunctions, also known as reason conjunctions, imply a cause-and-effect relationship:


  • Because
  • In order to
  • Since

Comparison and Concession Conjunctions

Comparison and concession conjunctions compare and contrast two ideas:

  • Although
  • Whereas

Condition Conjunctions

Condition conjunctions add a condition to a clause:

  • In case
  • If

Place Conjunctions

Place conjunctions introduce a location:

  • Where
  • Whereas

Time Conjunctions

Time conjunctions introduce time constraints to a sentence:

  • As long as
  • Before
  • Whether


Examples of Subordinating Conjunctions in Sentences

Here are some examples of how you might use a subordinating conjunction in a sentence.

I wonder if they know that the shop is closed today.

The subordinating conjunction in the sentence above is "that." It joins the independent clause "the shop is closed today" to the dependent clause "I wonder if they know."


I'm going whether you come or not.

The subordinating conjunction in the sentence above is "whether." It connects the independent clause "I'm going" to the dependent clause "you come or not."

Bring an umbrella in case of rain.

The subordinating conjunction in the sentence above "in case" links the main clause "bring an umbrella" to the dependent clause "of rain."