Subordinating conjunctions connect dependent clauses to independent clauses (a.k.a. subordinate clauses, hence the super-clever name).
When you hear the word "subordinate" you usually think of a little toady or yes-man—somebody that butters up the boss and laughs way too hard at all of her jokes.
Don't let this influence your opinion of subordinating conjunctions. These grammatical pieces are divas. Subordinating conjunctions are the star of any complex sentence.
In a complex sentence, you'll find at least two ideas, one of which is more important than the other. You might think of the more important idea as the main event, and you'll find it in the independent clause.
The dependent clause conveys less important information, and it depends on the independent clause in order to make sense. That's where the subordinating conjunction comes in. It reduces the importance of the dependent clause, so the independent clause can be highlighted. Let's look at an example:
Jay's dorm burned down because somebody left a bacon-scented candle unattended.
Sure, it's interesting that they make bacon-scented candles, which is part of what the dependent clause tells us in this sentence. But the main event here is that Jay's dorm burned to the ground, which is what's relayed in the independent clause.
By connecting those two clauses with the subordinating conjunction because, we get a complex sentence that forms a more complete picture of why candles are a major no-no in most dormitories… even if they smell delicious.
But wait, there's more!
You can remember some of the most popular subordinating conjunctions by harnessing the power of AWUBIS. That's right, AWUBIS. While it may sound like a mythical wolf whose howls can unleash the power of a thousand suns, it's actually a pretty sweet memory device to help you harness the power of subordinating conjunctions:
One last thing… because we love talking about commas. As a general rule: if the dependent clause comes before the independent clause, use a comma—otherwise you'll end up with a run-on sentence. If the independent clause is first, don't use a comma. Check out the examples for more.
List of examples:
- even though
- rather than
P.S. Please only use one subordinating conjunction at a time. Otherwise you end up with something like this:
Because she wanted to count the number of stars in the sky even though she knew it was impossible.
"Until ferrets are granted driver's licenses, I'm going to have to keep driving Squiggles to the veterinarian's office."
In this example, the subordinating conjunction until is used to link the two ideas expressed in the sentence. We've got the dependent clause Until ferrets are granted driver's licenses, and the independent clause that follows it. Did you notice that the dependent clause and independent clause are linked with a comma? Excellent.
"My little sister annoys me because she wants to do everything that I do."
Listen, she might irritate you now because she does things like borrow your favorite sweater without asking, but one day you'll be grateful for her. And you'll also be grateful that you know that because is a subordinating conjunction. In this example, the independent clause My little sister annoys me is joined to the dependent clause because she wants to do everything that I do.
"Tacos seemed to rain down from the heavens after the tortilla truck crashed into the chorizo factory."
We've had dreams of this situation. In this tasty example, after is a subordinating conjunction that links the independent clause tacos seemed to rain down from the heavens with the dependent clause after the tortilla truck crashed into the chorizo factory.
The fact that tacos were falling out of the sky is the main event here; that's why it's expressed in the independent clause. The fact that the taco storm started when a truck crashed into a factory, while awesome, is rendered less important because it begins with the subordinating conjunction.