Subordinating conjunctions

With subordination you use words or word groups to distinguish the main ideas, or in other words, to indicate that some ideas in a sentence are less important than the idea in the main clause. In the following sentence, it is difficult to tell what is most important:

*Computer prices have dropped, and production costs have dropped more slowly, and computer manufacturers have had to contend with shrinking profits.

The following revision places the point of the sentence (shrinking profits) in the main clause and reduces the rest of the information to a modifier (underlined).

Because production costs have dropped more slowly than prices, computer manufacturers have had to contend with shrinking profits.

No rules can specify what information in a sentence you should make primary and what you should subordinate; the decision will depend on your meaning. But, in general, you should consider using subordinate structures for details of time, cause, condition, concession, purpose and identification (size, location, and the like).

Cause & Consequence: as, because, for in that, since, so that

Because Jones had been without work for months, he was having trouble paying his bills.
  • As and since are very common in English as causal conjunctions. They can both be used to introduce clauses which either follow or precede the host clause, and are equally happy in both positions. When the dependent clause follows the host clause, as and since are often preceded by particularly and especially. Both conjunctions are regarded as less formal and less precise in their meaning than because, in the sense that the relation they indicate is more casual than the notion of explicit reason which characterizes because. This is illustrated by the fact that it is possible to say precisely because, but one does not come across *precisely as or *precisely since. A particular feature of as which distinguishes it from since is that with as the cause given is presented as if it is well-known or obvious.
  • For is a very formal conjunction which you can use to introduce an explanation or a justification for something. Often the for-clause has the addional interpretation of 'it is after all the case that':
The UN will have to take action soon, for there is no individual country that is prepared to get its hands dirty.
A clause with for is always separated from the host clause by a comma. You may also come across sentences consisting only of a for-clause; these are not seen as fragments because for is a coordinating conjunction like and and but. Dictionaries tend to give for as the standard translation of Dutch want, but for is significanly different from want in that it is very much more formal.
  • In that is a useful conjunction but is rarely used by Dutch writers. Rather than signalling a reason for the content of the host clause, it stresses that what follows is a justification for presenting the content of the host clause.
Arbitration boards have clearly been a great success, in that the number of working days lost to strikes has fallen by 50% since the boards were introduced.
The force of in that here might be paraphrased as 'and my evidence for claiming this is as follows'. Note that a clause with in that follows its host clause but cannot precede it.

Concession & contrast: although, as if, even though, much as, though, while, whereas

Although the horse looked gentle, it proved hard to manage.
While some countries did agree to NATO intervention, others were strongly against it.
Voting in the south was brisk, whereas in the north it got off to a slow start.
  • Some people suggest that while and the similar but more formal word whilst should not be used in a contrastive sense, similar in meaning to whereas, and should be restricted to its temporal use. However, this is an overly puristic approach since it is quite common in lots of formal writing. One difference between while and whereas is that the contrast expressed by the former is somewhat weaker than that expressed by the latter.

Condition: if, inasmuch (as), provided, since, unless, whenever

Whenever forecasters predict a mild winter, farmers hope for an early spring.

Purpose: in order that, so that, that

Congress passed new immigration laws so that many Vietnamese refugees could enter the United States

Space - Time: after, before, since, until, when, while

After the mine explosion killed six workers, the owners adopted safety measures.