Coordination and Subordination
In graduate school, I had a professor who said, “The hardest word in the English language to use properly is the conjunction ‘and’,” and “The key to success is subordination.”
I just used the coordinating conjunction ‘and’ in the sentence above to join the two quotations, which are independent clauses.
A good way to think about coordination is to visualize a scale in balance, or kids balancing on a see-saw.
There are seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, yet, for, or, nor, so. Used properly, they join equal parts: two or more words, phrases, clauses or sentences of equal rank. Each of the seven coordinating conjunctions has a different meaning.
- And: in addition, also, moreover, besides
2&3. But or yet: nevertheless, however, still
4. For: because, seeing that, since
5. Or: as an alternative, otherwise
6. Nor: and not, or not, not either [nor is used after a negative]
7. So: therefore, as a result
Using the accurate conjunction betters a writer’s chance of being correctly understood.
Since ideas are neither all equal nor merit equal emphasis, it’s important to subordinate the lesser elements to make the primary idea paramount. This is called subordination.
A good way to visualize subordination is to think of a painting where the compositional elements are toned down in order to bring attention to the focal point, as in Rembrant’s self- portrait. Everything in this painting is secondary to the artist’s face.
Things that are subordinate are secondary; they have lower rank than the main idea, and their placement in a sentence, paragraph or essay should reflect that.
Subordination allows a writer to emphasize the main idea, to combine lesser ideas in the service of the main idea, and to combine supporting evidence with clarity and elegance.
You can read more about subordination here.
Deborah Lee Luskin is an author, speaker and educator who loves winter.