CS Sealey

New Zealand-based sub-editor, writer and author

Correlative conjunctions

This fancy term may have given you cause for confusion but I guarantee you have heard a correlative conjunction in a movie, spoken one, written one in an essay or read one in a book.

Remember the moment when Morpheus first takes Neo into the Matrix training program? (If you haven’t seen the Matrix yet, I am astounded at you! Go away and watch it, then we’ll talk.) While Morpheus lectures him, Neo is distracted by a woman wearing a red dress. This woman then turns into an Agent, giving Morpheus the opportunity to say, ‘If you are not one of us, you are one of them.’

This phrase is a variation of the either … or correlative conjunction.

There are many different kinds of correlative conjunctions, the term given to coordinating conjunctions that pair up to connect elements in a single sentence. The two or more sections of that sentence should mirror each other in meaning.

Other examples of correlative conjunctions are:

rather … than

whether … or

not only … but also

as many … as

both … and

just as … so

what with … and

neither … nor

scarcely/hardly … when

no sooner … than

as … as

not … but

Another example of correlative conjunctions can be found in a famous scene from the 1959 movie Ben-Hur. When Messala asks Judah to become an informant for him and the Roman Emperor, the two argue.

Judah cries, ‘I would rather be a fool than a traitor or a killer!’

Messala angrily retorts, ‘Either you help me or you oppose me, you have no other choice. You’re either with me or against me.’

Very powerful scene, that.

Further examples include:

Whether you like raspberries or hate them is unimportant.

Not only did she steal my mother’s jewels but also my heart! (Boo-hoo.)

It was hard to get to the train station what with one thing and another.

The soccer game was not stressful but tiring.

Both boys and girls enjoyed watching the movie Frozen.

Speaking of which… do you want to build a snowman?

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