Cohesion (Part 2): Linking words

Cohesion (Part 2): Linking words

Now that you've finished reading Cohesion (Part 1) a hundred times, it's time to learn more! In this post we deal with the words that connect our words, sentences, and ideas together. These have many names depending on the book or person you're dealing with, so don't worry too much about what to call them; just make sure you understand how to use the different types. Today, we'll call them all 'linking words' then break them into other categories. 

Why are they often called linking phrases?

A phrase is a group of words. Because many linking words contain more than one word, it's more accurate to call them phrases; however, using the plural 'words' has the same meaning in a way and is more familiar to a lot of students. 

Are linking words the same in speaking and writing?

To some extent, yes... Cohesion is extremely important in English as we saw in the previous post on cohesion. In speaking, the linking words used can be a little more informal and nontraditional, whereas in academic writing, traditional rules are observed. In other writing it depends on the author's style as to how carefully they follow traditional grammar rules. Here, we'll focus on academic style (writing) and you can use all of these linking words in speaking, too.

Are there any other ways to connect things? 

Of course, but we dealt with those previously in Cohesion (Part 1). To refresh your memory, it covered determiners, pronouns, and using synonyms or vocabulary to create a sense of flow, or good connection in our writing and speaking. If you don't get the joke below, maybe you need to re-read it! 


mage via Simon

I've already got a list of linking words.

Good for you! If you understand how to use them to create compound and complex sentences, you're probably ok, but if you're not sure how to use them all in sentences, read on.


Before we go any further, we need to understand 'clauses'. If you haven't already watched the video on sentence structure, you might like to now but here's a quick summary.

One way to think of a clause in English is a subject plus a predicate. 

Clause = subject + predicate (see picture below)

subject and predicates in clause

Examples of subjects and predicates in clauses

In brief, the subject is whatever the clause is about, and the verb phrase and anything left can be considered the predicate. Why should you care? Well, your clauses should always have a subject and a main verb phrase and knowing this makes it easier for you to write and speak more clearly. 

Clause types

There are two types of clauses in traditional grammar. These are similar to people in a way. How so? Well, what do we call people who are happy living by themselves, and can cook and clean for themselves? Independent! And what do we call people like babies that cannot do anything for themselves and aren't happy alone? Dependent! 

Clauses are exactly the same. Happy by itself? You've got an independent clause. Not happy alone and needs something else to be complete? Dependent clause. Let's look at an example:
I am happy = this is a complete thought; therefore, it's an independent clause.
Because I am happy = this isn't complete anymore. When I added 'because', it made the clause need something more to be finished. 

To finish a dependent clause, you just add another independent clause. For instance:

Because I am happy, I am smiling. / Because I am happy, I sleep well. 

How is a dependent clause made?

As you probably guessed, a dependent clause is created when we use a special type of linking word called a subordinating conjunction. You can see an example in the picture below. More about those later! For now, let's keep looking at independent clauses.

independent v dependant clauses

Independent and dependent clauses (Image via

Independent clauses vs sentences

Is an independent clause a sentence? Technically, no. Why not? Because a sentence in English needs three things:

  1. to be a complete thought
  2. to have a capital letter at the start
  3. to have punctuation at the end (usually in academic English, it's a full stop)

So, I am happy is technically not a sentence, but it's got the first two characteristics of a sentence. That means if we add a full stop, it becomes a sentence: I am happy. We talk about clauses and not sentences with linking words, mainly because one sentence may have several clauses. Now that we know what independent clauses are, we can talk about the linking words we use with them. 

Conjunctive adverbs

First up are conjunctive adverbs. Other names for these? Discourse markers, transition signals, signal language, sign posting, adverbial conjunctions... the list goes on! All you need to remember is that you should be using them a lot in academic writing, and they usually join separate sentences. They can often go in many positions in the sentence, but if you're not sure, you can always put one at the beginning of a sentence you're joining to another one. Here's an example of the same sentence with the conjunctive adverb in different places.

  • Numerous studies have reported sweet drinks are safe. However,this is clearly wrong.
  • Numerous studies have reported sweet drinks are safe. This is clearly wrong, however. 
  • Numerous studies have reported sweet drinks are safe. This,however, is clearly wrong.
  • Numerous studies have reported sweet drinks are safe; however,this is clearly wrong.

Notice anything about punctuation with conjunctive adverbs? That's right! They usually have a comma after them. There are a couple of other rules for their use. 

  • If they're in the middle of a clause, put commas on each side of the word (except in very short clauses).
  • They are not strong enough to join clauses, so make sure you're joining separate sentences. This means you should see a full stop or semi-colon (;) before the clause you add a conjunctive adverb to.
conjunctive adverb

Two sentences joined by a conjunctive adverb

Those earlier sentences were all showing contrast but conjunctive adverbs can join different types of information, or have various functions. Let's look at some examples.

  • I am hungry. Therefore, I'm going to get something to eat.

[function of conjunctive adverb: showing cause-effect relationship]

  • National leaders need to deal with many complex issues; in other words, they have to be able to face different types of challenges. 

[function of conjunctive adverb: re-stating]

  • Firstly, there needs to be a survey done. After this, we will need to compile the results. Finally, we'll put together a report. 

[function of conjunctive adverb: showing time sequence]

Here's a list of the most common ones with their functions. How many have you used?

most common conjunctive adverbs

Two sentences joined by common conjunctive adverbs - most common structure


Let's turn to our next type of linking words: conjunctions. What does conjunction mean? Con means together and junction is from the Latin 'jungere', meaning join. Therefore, these join things like nouns and clauses together, traditionally inside one sentence. Why did I mention 'traditionally'? Because you've probably seen them used a lot in an informal way, which is different to academic writing. There are three main types of conjunctions:

  1. Co-ordinating 
  2. Correlative 
  3. Subordinating 

Coordinating conjunctions

Otherwise known as FANBOYS, these join two independent clauses that are equal in importance to make one sentence. They can also join equal noun phrases or other phrases. You can keep adding FANBOYS in a sentence if you want; each time you add one, you can add another clause. However, remember we like shorter sentences in English, so this isn't common. Why are they called FANBOYS? To help you remember them, of course! See the picture below.


Co-ordinating conjunctions, or FANBOYS

In academic writing, FANBOYS will usually be in the middle of sentences, but in spoken English or informal writing, you'll see them at the beginning of sentences. When you use them to join clauses, you are creating a 'compound' sentence

With these linking words, you don't need to repeat the subjects or main verbs of the clauses in the second clause if they are the same. In fact, it's probably better not to, because we avoid unnecessary repetition in English and value directness. For example, you can see in the second sentence in the example below, 'it' is optional. 

coordinating conjunctions

Examples of co-ordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS) in sentences

Correlative conjunctions

Our next type of conjunctions are similar to FANBOYS in that they can join equal things in one sentence. These things can again be words, phrases, or clauses. Correlative conjunctions are also called 'paired' conjunctions because they are used in pairs. Do you know them all? Check below!

correlative conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions

Remember earlier we looked at dependent clauses? They are clauses that aren't happy by themselves and they're created when you use this special type of linking word, subordinating conjunctions. These are a type of 'subordinator', which creates 'subordinate' (dependent) clauses. Why this word? 'Sub' is from Latin, meaning under and 'ordinate' is from Latin meaning order. This name can help you remember how we have a clause that is less strong or dependent, which needs to be put with another clause that is more strong or 'independent. 

Like the FANBOYS, subordinating conjunctions have functions like showing contrast, addition, and cause-effect. Have a look at the list below and think about your writing and speaking. Are you using them all?

subordinating conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions, a type of subordinator

Remember our example of a dependent clause from before? Look below. What do you notice now?

independent dependant clause

A sentence with an independent and dependent clause (Image via

You got it! We can change the order of the clauses when we use dependent clauses. Now it's easy to see another reason we distinguish between them and independent clauses: dependent clauses can move around with the linking word that they're dependent on. This can't happen with independent clauses because they're strong alone. This means that if we use other types of linking words with the same sentences, changing the order of the clauses isn't possible:

Coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS)

✓ She was small but she was very strong.
x But she was very strong, she was small. 

Conjunctive adverb

✓ She was small. However, she was very strong.
x However, she was very strong. She was small. 

Subordinating conjunction

✓ Although she was small, she was very strong. 
✓ She was very strong although she was small. 

As you can see from the example already, the sentence structure when using a subordinator is simple. Just put the linking word before one clause, and add another clause to complete your sentence. When you start with the linking word, use a comma to separate the clauses. If the linking word is in the middle, it is separating the clauses so you don't need a comma. The diagram below shows this structure. 

sentence with subordinator structure

Basic complex sentence with subordinator structure

When you use these linking words, you create 'complex' sentences. This doesn't mean they're more difficult than other sentences, it's just a grammatical term. To have the best writing possible, use a mix of simple, compound, and complex sentences. Let's look at an example of a summary, where you can see the variety of sentences makes the writing flow. 

mix of sentence types

Example summary showing a mix of sentence types

Are there other linking words?

Yes, there are other types of linking words that create dependent clauses or phrases, but we'll look at those another day. 

06 September 2019


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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.