Thursday, March 11, 2010

Conjunction Peer Pressure

The adage you can’t teach an old dog new tricks could be capitalized on easily. Conjunctionally speaking is this true.


What is a conjunction? A conjunction is a word that joins. It is a small class of words which functions as connectors between words, phrases, clauses or sentences. For example: and, but, because, however, as. Conjunctions have two basic functions, coordinating conjunction and subordinating conjunction… Are these rules still practiced? What’s up with our buts and ands?

A recent conversation among a group of people, young and old, turned rather interesting as I listened to them gripe about the blatant use of a conjunction at the opening of a sentence. I squeezed my toes together in my shoes and muttered, Amen, impressed that the younger generation is trying to preserve the rules of conjunctions and not call it old school. Clearly, they too must have undergone some challenging moments learning about conjunctions in their fundamental years. If they felt pain I guarantee that it was not greater than mine. My teachers were extremely stern when it came to proper grammar. The measures that they projected among my schoolmates and I, regarding any incorrectness, would have been seen as attempted murder in today’s society. “A conjunction is a joining word. Do not use it to start your sentence. You are very obstinate. Open your head and learn the right thing. How many times am I going to repeat this?” Every word in those statements would be punctuated with a strike on our bodies. Needless to say that by the time they were finished with their corporal punishment some of us were standing in tiny puddles of water.

At home it was a horse of different color. The word but, one of the busiest conjunctions, was considered an offensive word. I could never But my parents when giving them an answer or an explanation. I would be seen as being bumptious and insolent and therefore warranted a backhand across my face. There is no doubt that I had paid a heavy price to get the business of conjunction engrained in my head. It is very difficult to teach old dog new tricks. However, to be in sync some of us will deviate. An Educator once told me that there is no steadfast rule which prohibits the use of a conjunction at the start of a sentence. Dialogue, perhaps or style.

In all fairness I take into consideration that today there are still a few sticklers when it comes to grammar. Many of us will remember the stir the little adverb Faithfully caused as President Obama took the presidential oath of office, at his inauguration ceremony in 2009. The oath as written in the Constitution of the United States of America reads: “I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.” However, Chief Justice Roberts used the linguistic liberty which he felt he was entitled to and removed the little adverb “faithfully” and slipped it at the end of the clause. Then when President Obama hesitated, Justice Roberts tried again by placing faithfully immediately after execute, which still wasn't the right position. Moving along President Obama ended up saying the oath with faithfully at the end of the clause, which was the first wrong way. Inasmuch as this did not change the meaning of the clause, President Obama and his team out of caution decided to take the oath again so as to parrot the Constitution‘s exact wording. Thus a day and a half after the inaugural ceremony Chief Justice Roberts re-administered the presidential oath of office to President Barack Obama.

What’s going on in public places with our grammar? One day, at a pub, I heard a man state that the English language is no push over, granted that he was like a submarine or under his waters, still I listened keenly. “English will confuse the backside out of you,” he claimed. Adding to that, I remember a man whose surname was Foot. He had some children and it happened that one day a passerby in a respectful manner said, “good morning Mr. Foot and how are you and the little Feet today?” Now there goes the singular and plural tense, another side of the English language. Confusing? Think again. The passerby lived what he learned. At another time, in one of my English classes in High School the lesson was about finding the object in a sentence. I listened carefully as the teacher, Mrs. So and So, dictated the sentence…The soldiers fought battles in the air. A brief discussion followed, involving full class participation. She then reconstructed the sentence to make a point. It read…The soldiers fought in battles in the air. My visual kicked in immediately, courting the unthinkable…a soldier doing gas bubbles in a bottle. This of course provoked laughter which caused the teacher to reprimand me. Language is indeed a science in more ways than one.

Hence, for those of us who are confused by the use of conjunctions there is comfort. To prove this, someone had sent me a birthday card many years ago with the following fable:

Once there was a little bird who decided to stay in the north for the winter. However, it soon turned so cold. He reluctantly started to fly south. Ice began to form on his wings. Almost frozen, he fell to earth in a pasture. A cow wandered by and crapped on the little bird. Our feathered friend thought it was the end. But the manure was warm and defrosted his wings. Warm, happy and able to breathe, he started to sing. Just then a cat came by and hearing the chirping investigated. The cat cleared away the manure, found the singing bird and promptly ate him.

The moral of the story is: Anyone who craps on you is not necessarily your enemy. Anyone who pulls you out of a pile of manure is not necessarily your friend. BUT most importantly if you’re warm and happy in a pile of shit, keep your mouth shut.

Cheers! Have your conjunction the way you like it so long as it hits the spot.

Tah-tah! Easy squeeze and no riot.

Grace Dunkley-Asphall copyright © 2010


  1. I love the Foot story. Here's a nice complementary article titled How to Teach Conjunctions on how to teach the three forms of conjunctions--each with memory tricks, examples, and practical strategies for teaching in the context of authentic writing.

  2. As an addendum to my piece on conjunction, it would be nice for anyone who pass this way to check out Mark Pennington's "How to Teach Conjunctions." I found it very useful...on the money. Thanks for sharing Mark. I will continue to read the wealth of information that you have provided.

  3. Keep writing. Your sense of humor is a source of good medicine, because each time I read your blog I am laughing soo hard my tummy hurt & my eyes get watery. There are times though when I really have to stop and think. Thanks.

  4. I love this piece! It's so true that a lot of people these days are forgetting the rules of grammar. I first learned what a conjunction was from School House Rock:
    Hopefully those young'uns will keep it in mind when they write their text messages at unsurpassed speeds.