Correlative conjunctions in detail

This lesson will help you understand correlative conjunctions in detail. There is a detailed video lesson on ‘correlative conjunctions’ attached at the end of the post; you can directly jump on it if you prefer videos to articles.

Correlative conjunctions examples
Correlative conjunctions examples

What are correlative conjunctions in English?

Correlative conjunction definition: Correlative conjunctions work in pairs to add two words, phrases, or clauses that have equal importance in a sentence. They work like tag team partners. That’s why we call them Correlative: CO (together) and relate (relate one element to another in a sentence).

Here are the most common correlative conjunctions in English:

  • Either… or
  • Neither… nor
  • Both… and
  • Not only… but also
  • Whether… or
  • Such… that
  • No sooner… than
  • Would rather… than
Correlative conjunctions explanation
Correlative conjunctions explanation

Examples of correlative conjunctions:

  • We can select either you or him.
  • Neither you nor your friends have the right skills.
  • She is neither a good singer nor a good dancer.
  • She not only cheated on me but also ran away with my money.
  • Both Conor and Dustin are great fighters.
  • I don’t know whether she took a cab, or she walked to her home.
  • It was such a good question that nobody could answer it.
  • No sooner I stepped outside than it started raining.
  • I would rather have coffee than tea.

Notice that these correlative conjunctions are sitting at the distance and connecting two equal elements. Let’s understand all the correlative conjunctions one by one.

Either… or…

The correlative conjunction ‘either…or’ is used to join two words, phrases, or clauses. It means “one out of the two options” that carry equal importance. The conjunction either introduces the first option and, or introduces the second option.

Examples:

  • You can live either with me or with your brother.
  • Either they or I am right.
  • She was studying either Mathematics or Biology.
  • Jon must be living either in Canada or in Brazil.
  • You either listen to me or do whatever you want to do.

Neither… nor…

The correlative conjunction ‘neither…nor’ means “none of the two options.” We use this conjunction to present two options that we are not considering. Here are some examples of ‘neither…nor’ in sentences:

Examples:

  • Neither you nor I am capable of beating that guy.
  • He can neither speak English fluently nor understand it.
  • You are neither my brother nor a friend.
  • His friends speak neither English nor Hindi.

Both… and…

The correlative conjunction “both…and” is used when you want to join two items that you consider. You use this conjunction to focus on the fact that there are two items that contributed to something; the focus on the inclusion of the items.

Examples:

  • Both you and your family were really supportive last night.
    (We can also say “You and your family were really supportive last night,” but it’s not the same. It does not focus on the inclusion: the inclusion is there using the coordinating conjunction ‘and‘, but we are not deliberating focusing on the inclusion. We use the determiner ‘both’ o do that.)
  • I loved both the party and the guests.
  • You were both fast and precise in the fight.
  • I am okay with both taking him to the hospital and taking care of him until you come reach there.

Not only… but also…

The correlative conjunction “not only…but also” is used when you want to add two surprising things. Not also introduces the first surprising thing and focuses that this piece is not the only surprising thing; ahead of this, there is another surprising thing that is introduced by the second conjunction but also.

Examples:

  • He not only kissed my girlfriend but also shared my secrets with her.
    (The first conjunction not only introduces the first surprising piece of information, which is he kissing my girlfriend. But he did something else too, which is introduced by the second conjunction: he shared my secrets with her too. I wasn’t expecting him to do any of these.)
  • Max not only lost the match, but he also disappointed all of us.
  • She is not only beautiful but also smart.
  • Not only did you waste my time, but you also lost my respect.
  • Not only will I prepare you for the exam, but I also will take care of all your expenses.

Note that when we use a comma with the correlative conjunction not only…but also, the subject of the but also clause splits the conjunction but also. This happens because but works as a coordinating conjunction here as well.

NOTE: If you start your sentence with not only, make sure it is followed by the verb and then the subject. We inverse the subject-verb combination here. Notice in the last two sentences, we used the subject of the ‘not only clause’ after its verb though it is not a question.

Whether… or…

The correlative conjunction “whether…or” presents two alternatives in a situation.

Examples:

  • I don’t know whether she took a cab, or she walked to her home.
  • You have to study all lessons whether they are easy or difficult.
  • We are not sure whether you will like it or, you don’t.
  • Whether you like it or not, I will invite her to the party.

If the second element, what comes after or, is negative, here are the possible ways to frame the sentence:

  • Whether you like it or not, I will invite her to the party.
  • Whether or not you like it, I will invite her to the party.
  • Whether you like it, or you don’t, I will invite her to the party.

Such… that…

The correlative conjunction ‘such…that’ is used to join two parts where the first part is a noun phrase that works as a cause, and the second part is a statement that is the result of the cause (noun phrase). So ‘such’ introduces a cause, and ‘that’ introduces the result of the cause.

Examples:

  • It was such a close fight that we didn’t know who won it.
    (We did not know who won the fight because it was a close fight. So, ‘such’ introduces the noun phrase (a close fight), which works as the cause for what ‘that’ introduces: we not knowing who won the match.)
  • He speaks with such good manners that everyone likes to talk to him.
  • Jon was such a bad fighter that the company fired him immediately.
  • He was such a dominant fighter that everyone was scared of fighting him.

No sooner…than…

We use the correlative conjunction ‘no sooner…than’ to introduce two actions where the second action, introduced by than, comes right after the first action.

Examples:

  • No sooner had we heard the good news, than we started dancing.
  • No sooner had I heard him cry on the phone, than I took a cab to his place.
  • No sooner had she saw me with the girl she is jealous of, than she broke up with me.
  • No sooner had I reached the station, than the train left.

Note that we can use the auxiliary verb ‘did’ in place of had.

  • No sooner did we hear the good news than we started dancing.
  • No sooner did I heard him cry on the phone than I took a cab to his place.

Notice that when we start the sentence with a negative word, we put the auxiliary verb before the subject. This is called inversion in English.

NOTE: we can also use the subordinating conjunction ‘as soon as’ to render the same meaning.

  • As soon as we heard the good news, we started dancing.
  • As soon as I heard him cry on the phone, I took a cab to his place.
  • As soon as she saw me with the girl she is jealous of, she broke up with me.
  • As soon as I reached the station, the train left.

Would rather… than

We use the correlative conjunction ‘would rather…than’ to show a person’s preference. We use a bare infinitive after would rather and than.

Examples:

  • She would rather stay single than date you.
  • He would rather come with us than stay here.
  • I would rather have coffee than tea.
  • We would rather leave the job than do illegal things for money.

As…as

We use the correlative conjunction ‘as…as’ to compare a person or thing with another person or thing. The first as’ is followed by an adjective or adverb, and the second ‘as’ introduces a noun.

Structure: as + adjective/adverb + as + noun/pronoun

Examples:

  • I am not as smart as this man.
  • You look as big and powerful as a bodybuilder.
  • The kid was running as fast as us.

The second ‘as’ can also introduce a clause.

  • The match is turning out to be as exciting as I though it would be.
  • As soon as we heard the news of his accident, he got there as fast as we possibly could.

As much…as

We use ‘as much…as‘ to compare an uncountable noun to something else. Here, as muchis followed by an uncountable noun, andas’ is followed by a clause.

Structure: as much+ uncountable noun + as + clause

Examples:

  • They gave me as much money as they had.
  • You can eat as much food as you want.

As many…as

This structure is used to compare a countable noun to something else.

Examples:

  • You can eat as many apples as you want.
  • They are bringing in as many writers as possible.
  • We gave him as many chances as we could.

Scarcely/Hardly…when

The correlative conjunction ‘scarcely/hardly…when’ is used to join two past actions that happened one after another.

Examples:

  • Hardly had I stepped outside when it started raining.
    (firstly, I stepped outside, and then it started raining. There is not much time difference between the two actions. The correlative conjunction ‘scarcely/hardly…when’ adds these two actions and focuses on the fact that these actions took place simultaneously, without much time gap.)
  • Scarcely had we reached the station when the train arrived.
  • Scarcely had she started the car when her mother called her.
  • Hardly had Jon received the award when Nao started crying in happiness.

Note that ‘hardly/scarcely…when’ can be replaced with ‘no sooner…than’ to give the same meaning.

  • Hardly had Rohan finished the food when he collapsed on the floor.
    or
  • No sooner had Rohan finished the food than he collapsed on the floor.
    or
  • As soon as Rohan finished the food than he collapsed on the floor.

Note that with these expressions, the first clause follows inversion: the subject comes after the verb. And we write the first clause either in the Past Perfect tense or the Simple Past tense; the second clause is always written in the Simple Past tense.

  • Hardly had I stepped outside when it started raining.
  • Hardly did I step outside when it started raining.

Let’s look at some important points.

POINT #1: Correlative conjunctions require a parallel structure.

It’s important to note that correlative conjunctions require the elements they join to be parallel: both of them need to be the same.

A structure is called parallel when all the elements added to the list are the same: same part of speech, same tense, and same number.

I not only loved your performance but also want to see you perform again.

(Notice that the first element (loved your performance) is in the Simple past tense, and the second element (want to see your perform again) is in the Simple Present tense. They are not in the parallel structure as both the actions are in different tenses.)

Parallel structure:

  • I not only loved your performance but also wanted to see you perform again. ✔️
    or
  • I not only love your performance but also wanted to see you perform again. ✔️

She either loves apples or mangoes. ❌

Notice that the first conjunction ‘either‘ introduces a verb phrase (loves apples), but the second conjunction ‘or’ introduces a noun. They are not parallel.

Parallel structure:

  • She either loves apples or loves mangoes.✔️
    or
  • She either loves apples or hates mangoes.✔️

He should either leave the company or his website. ❌

First element: leave the company
Second element: his website

The first element is a verb + noun phrase, but the second element is simply a noun phrase. The verb needs to be there in order to make the structure parallel.

Parallel structure:

  • He should either leave the company or start working on his website. ✔️
  • He should either leave the company or sell his website. ✔️

POINT #2: Faulty subject-verb agreement

If the correlating conjunctions ‘either…or’ and ‘neither…nor’ introduce the elements as the subject of a sentence, the verb must follow what comes after OR and NOR.

  • Neither you nor I are capable of doing this. ❌
  • Either my friends or my girlfriend have planned this surprise. ❌
  • Neither I nor they am a part of this prank. ❌

In the above sentences, the verbs are not following what comes after the second conjunction (nor/or). According to the proximity rule, the verbs in such cases need to follow what they are closest to.

Corrections:

  • Neither you nor I am capable of doing this. ✔️
  • Either my friends or my girlfriend has planned this surprise. ✔️
  • Neither I nor they are a part of this prank. ✔️

POINT #3: Faulty subject-object agreement

When we use the correlative conjunctions either…or and neither…nor, make sure the possessive adjective in the object follows the right part.

Either my girlfriend or my friends will share her notes with me. ❌

The possessive adjective in the object should refer to the possession of the noun “my friends.” But it’s referring to the possession of the first element (my girlfriend), not following the proximity rule.

Neither my college nor my classmates showed me its support.
Not only the boys but also the girl called his parents immediately. ❌

Corrections:

  • Either my girlfriend or my friends will share their notes with me. ✔️
  • Neither my college nor my classmates showed me their support. ✔️
  • Not only the boys but also the girl called her parents immediately. ✔️

POINT #4: Don’t use a comma before the second conjunction. (One exception)

Most writers, when using correlative conjunctions, get confused whether to use a comma with correlative conjunctions or not.

Generally, we don’t use a comma with correlative conjunctions.

He brought gifts not only for you but also for me. ✔️
He brought gifts not only for you, but also for me.❌

I can buy either your painting or his painting. ✔️
I can buy either your painting, or his painting.❌

But it’s not as simple as it sounds. We don’t use a comma before the second conjunction generally. But you will have to use a comma before the second conjunction if the following two conditions are fulfilled:

  1. The second conjunction in the pair belongs to a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).
  2. The second conjunction (coordinating conjunction) is followed by a clause.
  • Not only do I love you, but I also look up to you. ✔️
  • Either you leave the job, or you do what the company says. ✔️
  • Not only has she taken this job seriously, but she also has started enjoying it. ✔️

Note that when we use a comma with the correlative conjunction not only…but also, the subject of the but also clause splits the conjunction but also. This happens because ‘but‘ works as a coordinating conjunction here as well.

POINT #5: Don’t use NEITHER…NOT in a negative sentence.

Using the correlative conjunction neither…nor creates double negation in a sentence, which is an error.

I don’t want to see neither you nor her. ❌
They haven’t received neither the payment nor the certificate. ❌

To avoid making this mistake of double negation while using neither…nor, make sure the sentence is positive.

  • I want to see neither you nor her. ✔️
  • They have received neither the payment nor the certificate. ✔️
Correlative conjunctionsmeaningExamples
Either…orone out of the two optionsI will either marry this girl or stay single forever.
We can have either you or her in the team.
Neither…nornone of the two optionsWe can have neither Chinese nor Italian at this moment.
Neither my family nor I am in support of killing animals.
Both… andfocuses on the inclusion of two elementsBoth you and Allen got selected for the job.
Jon is dating both Alia and Nancy at the same time.
Not only… but alsofocuses on the inclusion of one more shocking piece of informationNot only his friends but also his family are not helping him.
You are not only super smart but also very adorable.
Whether… ortwo alternatives in a situation I don’t know whether I should accept this offer or keep doing my job.
You keep doing the right things whether they like it, or they don’t.
Such… thatshows the cause and its resultIt was such a beautiful car that everyone stopped to see it.
He was singing so beautifully that we couldn’t move from our seats.
No sooner… thanshows two actions that happened simultaneously in the past No sooner had my parents got home than we stopped playing video games.
No sooner had Dhoni got out than we all stopped watching the match.
Scarcely/Hardly…whenshows two actions that happened simultaneously in the pastScarcely had the train left the station when I arrived.
Hardly had we stepped outside when the rain starting pouring down.
Would rather… thanshows the writer’s preference of one element to the otherShe would rather study Marketing than study Mathematics.
We would rather sit idle than watch him perform.
As…ascompares a person with another personRahul is as good as anyone else.
He can run as fast as Usain Bolt.
As much…ascompares an uncountable noun with something elseYou can drink as much milk as you want.
You can earn as much money as him.
As many…ascompares a countable noun with something elseI don’t have as many cars as you have.
Rohan ate as many burgers as us.
All correlative conjunctions examples

Hope you enjoyed the lesson! Feel free to correct the typos you come across.

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