In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Conjunctions

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Logical versus Natural Conjunctions
  • Cross-Linguistic Variation: Conjoining beyond Conjunctions
  • The Diachrony of Conjunctions

Linguistics Conjunctions
Caterina Mauri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0207


Conjunctions are linguistic elements that link two or more words, phrases, clauses, or sentences within a larger unit, in such a way that a specific semantic relation is established between them. In the literature, conjunctions are also referred to as “connectives” and “linkers.” Conjunctions are crucial devices in the organization and cohesion of discourse because they not only build complex units but also guide speakers toward the interpretation and processing of utterances, with respect to each other and with respect to context. Consequently, conjunctions frequently develop into discourse markers, and the border between the two is in some cases subtle. Different types of semantic relations may be encoded by conjunctions, ranging from general and basic relations such as the logical ones (e.g., combination [“and”], alternative [“or”], conditionality [“if”]) to more fine-grained, specific relations, such as concessive contrast (“although”). It is not rare to find multifunctional conjunctions: that is, conjunctions encoding more than one relation (see while “at the same time”/”whereas”). Certain conjunctions encode relations that may apply to all syntactic levels (typically logical relations, e.g., and), but the majority can only link clauses or VPs because they encode relations between events (e.g., causality). The morphosyntactic properties of conjunctions show great variation across languages. In English, they are typically characterized by short, invariant morphemes occurring between the linked elements. However, a cross-linguistic glance shows that conjunctions may also consist of multiword expressions (see, for example, in order to), may be bound morphemes (e.g., Hebrew ve- “and” Latin -que “that”), may be repeated before or after each element and may be correlative (e.g., English either. . . or. . .). Conjunctions may be coordinating or subordinating and may also be specialized for specific syntactic levels, as in languages that have different conjunctions for NPs and VPs (e.g., Korean—kena “or” for VPs and clauses, -ina “or” for NPs). Certain languages make little use of conjunctions, and interclausal relations are more typically conveyed through verbal strategies (such as converbs and switch-reference markers). The grammaticalization of conjunctions is closely connected to narrative contexts and shows different paces depending on the relation encoded: the more truth-functional, objective and basic the relation, the more stable in time the form (e.g., “and” conjunctions are quite stable over time). Languages with a written tradition tend to develop a richer set of conjunctions than languages with an oral tradition, because spoken language is characterized by a high degree of parataxis (i.e., absence of conjunctions, than written language).

General Overviews

A general survey on English conjunctions as means of textual cohesion can be found in Halliday and Hasan 1976, which can still be considered a true landmark in the study of the syntax and semantics of conjunctions. Many European languages are included in Kortmann 1997, which provides a typology of subordinating conjunctions, integrating a synchronic and a diachronic perspective. A wider cross-linguistic perspective is adopted in Payne 1985 and Lehmann 1988, which focus on complex phrases and complex sentences. Haspelmath 2004 offers a typological account of coordination, giving a lot of space for coordinating conjunctions from a wide set of unrelated languages. Baldi and Cuzzolin 2009 offers a comprehensive collection of papers dealing with Latin complex sentences and interclausal conjunctions. The multifunctionality of conjunctions is the object of contributions gathered in Laury 2008. Rehbein, et al. 2007 provides interesting contributions on connecting devices, emphasizing the analysis of conjunctions from various perspectives (language contact, language change, language acquisition, multilingual communication). Within this volume, Matras 2007 provides a comprehensive analysis of conjunctions in bilingual communication. Pons Bordería 2001 provides a clear discussion of the differences and similarities between connectives and discourse markers.

  • Baldi, Philip, and Pierluigi Cuzzolin, eds. 2009. New perspectives on historical Latin syntax: Complex sentences, grammaticalization, typology. Vol. 4. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    Volume on Latin complex sentences, accessible also to non-experts, with Latin examples glossed and translated into English. Great attention is given to various semantic types of interclausal conjunctions and to their diachronic developments.

  • Halliday, M. A. K., and R. Hasan. 1976. Cohesion in English. London: Longman.

    A landmark in the study on conjunctions as tools of textual cohesion. Uniquely based on English.

  • Haspelmath, Martin, ed. 2004. Coordinating constructions: An overview. In coordinating constructions. Edited by M. Haspelmath, 3–39. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Landmark in the study of coordinating constructions, including conjunctions, providing an important formal and semantic assessment of cross-linguistic variation.

  • Kortmann, Bernd. 1997. Adverbial subordination: A typology and history of adverbial subordinators based on European languages. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110812428

    Monograph completely dedicated to subordinating conjunctions in several European languages. One of the few books on conjunctions integrating a synchronic and a diachronic perspective.

  • Laury, Ritva. 2008. Crosslinguistic studies of clause combining?: The multifunctionality of conjunctions. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    DOI: 10.1075/tsl.80

    Collective volume gathering contributions focused on the multifunctionality of conjunctions, based on data from several languages.

  • Lehmann, Christian. 1988. Towards a typology of clause linkage. In Clause combining in grammar and discourse. Edited by John Haiman and Sandra A. Thompson, 181–225. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Important paper providing a systematic account of clause linkage strategies, ranging from coordination to subordination. Clausal conjunctions are discussed within the general picture of complex sentences.

  • Matras, Y. 2007. Contact, connectivity and language evolution. In Connectivity in grammar and discourse. Edited by J. Rehbein, C. Hohenstein, and L. Pietsch, 51–74. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Paper focused on conjunctions in bilingual communicative activity. Though discussing a specific data type, the conclusions are of general interest for a theory of conjunctions.

  • Payne, John. 1985. Complex phrases and complex sentences. In Complex constructions: Language typology and syntactic description. Edited by Timothy Shopen, 3–41. Vol. 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The first typological survey on coordination and coordinating conjunctions, both at phrase and clause level.

  • Pons Bordería, S. 2001. Connectives/discourse markers: An overview. Quaderns de filologia. Estudis literaris 6:219–243.

    Systematic discussion of the borders that delimit the two intertwined notions of connective/conjunction and discourse marker.

  • Rehbein, J., C. Hohenstein, and L. Pietsch, eds. 2007. Connectivity in grammar and discourse. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    A collection of papers discussing data from several languages and from different perspectives on the phenomenon of connectivity in discourse, of which conjunctions are the most evident manifestation.

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