Correlative conjunctions are used to join two equal parts of a sentence. For example, the correlative conjunction "either…or" can be used to join two nouns, two adjectives, or two verbs. In each case, the parts of the sentence that are joined by the correlative conjunction are equal in importance.
A correlative conjunction is a type of conjunction that is used to join two parts of a sentence that are closely related. The most common correlative conjunctions are "either…or" and "neither…nor."
Correlative conjunctions are conjunctions used to illustrate how two words or phrases within a sentence relate to each other. Correlative conjunctions always come in pairs.
Though they can illustrate a correlation between the two words or phrases, they don’t necessarily have to. In many cases, the words or phrases linked by a correlative conjunction can be discussed independently of one another. In these cases, joining them with a correlative conjunction makes your writing more concise and emphasizes that the two things being discussed happen in close succession, at the same time, or as a result of the same cause, or that they’re both distinct possibilities or outcomes of a shared cause or starting point.
Take a look at these sentences that use correlative conjunctions:
We could either hike up the mountain or swim in the lake this afternoon.
Whether you bike or drive to work, you’ll need to show your parking pass.
Not only did my boyfriend buy me a Nintendo Switch, but he also bought me a bunch of games!
Before we go deeper into correlative conjunctions, let’s do a quick refresher on conjunctions as a part of speech. Conjunctions are words that link phrases, clauses, and words together in sentences. Words like and and but are conjunctions. When you use a conjunction in a sentence, the words or phrases it links need to have parallel structures. Here’s an example of a conjunction at work:
She drives slowly and cautiously.
“She drives slow and cautiously” is incorrect, as are “She drives slowly and cautious” and “She drives slow and cautious.” In this example, the adverbs “slowly” and “cautiously” both describe the verb “drives,” and the conjunction and links them together to give the reader the full picture: The subject (“she”) doesn’t just drive, but drives at a low speed and in a cautious manner.
And can be a correlative conjunction when it’s paired with another conjunction like both. Take a look at this example:
Both my cat and my dog like bacon-flavored treats.
Like socks, correlative conjunctions always come in pairs. That’s their defining characteristic; if a conjunction doesn’t need a partner for its sentence to make sense, it’s not a correlative conjunction. The most common correlative conjunction pairs include:
Let’s take a look at a few example sentences:
Either you’re with me or you’re against me.
Such is the intensity of the pollen outside that I can’t leave the house.
My parents went to both Hawaii and Bali last year.
She would no sooner cheat on an exam than falsify her credentials.
They would rather go to the movies than the mall.
Here are some examples of correlative conjunctions being used to join two parts of a sentence:
Nouns: Either the teacher or the students are responsible for the mess in the classroom.
Adjectives: The new shoes are either too big or too small.
Verbs: We can either go to the movies or stay home and watch TV.
When using a correlative conjunction, be careful to use the correct form of the words that are being joined. For example, if you are joining two singular nouns, you will need to use the singular form of the verb. If you are joining two plural nouns, you will need to use the plural form of the verb.
Here are some examples of the correct and incorrect use of correlative conjunctions:
Incorrect: Either the teacher or the students is responsible for the mess in the classroom.
Correct: Either the teacher or the students are responsible for the mess in the classroom.
Incorrect: The new shoes is either too big or too small.
Correct: The new shoes are either too big or too small.
Incorrect: We can either goes to the movies or stay home and watch TV.
Correct: We can either go to the movies or stay home for TV.