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SubordinationPlacement of less important ideas within a sentence in a way that makes it clear that the ideas are less important than other ideas in the sentence. and coordinationPlacement of two or more ideas in a sentence in a way that clarifies that the ideas are of equal importance within the sentence. are used to clarify the relative level of importance or the relationship between and among words, phrases, or clauses within sentences. You can use subordination to arrange sentence parts of unequal importance and coordination to convey the idea that sentence parts are of equal importance.
Subordination allows you to convey differences in importance between details within a sentence. You can use the technique within a single sentence or to combine two or more smaller sentences. You should always present the most important idea in an independent clauseA part of a sentence that includes both a noun and a verb and could form a stand-alone sentence. and use dependent clauses and phrases to present the less important ideas. Start each dependent clauseA part of a sentence that presents an idea that could not stand alone as a sentence. with a subordinating conjunctionA word that introduces less important ideas in a sentence (e.g., after, because, if). (e.g., after, because, by the time, even though, if, just in case, now that, once, only if, since, though, unless, until, when, whether, while) or a relative pronounA pronoun that is singular or plural based on the pronoun’s antecedent (e.g., who, that). (e.g., that, what, whatever, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose). These starters signal the reader that the idea is subordinate. Here’s a sentence that uses a relative pronoun to convey subordination:
The core idea is that I will either come to your house or meet you at the gym. The fact that you’ll choose whichever option works best for you is subordinate, set apart with the relative pronoun “whichever.”
In the next example, two smaller sentences are combined using the subordinating conjunction “because”:
Some sentences have two or more equal ideas. You can use coordination to show a common level of importance among parts of a sentence, such as subjects, verbs, and objectsA noun, noun phrase, or noun substitute that receives the action of the verb (direct object: “He ate the apple”) or a noun or pronoun that indicates to or for whom the action of a verb is performed (indirect object: “He gave the apple to me”)..
Subject example: Both green beans and asparagus are great with grilled fish.
Verb example: We neither talked nor laughed during the whole two hours.
Object example: Machine embroidery combines the beauty of high-quality stitching and the expediency of modern technology.
The underlined ideas within each sentence carry equal weight within their individual sentences. As examples of coordination, they can be connected with coordinating conjunctionsA word that joins like-weighted ideas in a sentence (e.g., and, but, or). (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) or correlative conjunctionsA set of words or phrases that joins ideas of equal weight (e.g., either…or, not only…but also). (both…and, either…or, just as…so, neither…nor, not…but, not only…but also, whether…or).
You likely use subordination and coordination automatically. For example, if you say that something happened (e.g., Dale broke his leg while sledding) because of something else (e.g., he broke his leg when he sledded into a tree), you can use separate sentences, or you can use subordination within one sentence.
Ideas presented in two sentences: Dale broke his leg while sledding this weekend. His leg broke when the sled hit a tree.
Ideas presented in one sentence using subordination: This weekend, Dale broke his leg when his sled hit a tree. [Dale broke his leg is the main idea. The fact that it happened when the sled hit a tree is the subordinated idea.]
A natural way to use coordination is, for example, to discuss two things you plan to do on vacation. You can present the two ideas in separate sentences or in one sentence using coordination to signal equal emphases.
Ideas presented in two sentences: I’m planning to see the Statue of Liberty while I’m in New York. I’m also going to go to a Broadway play.
Ideas presented in one sentence using coordination: While I’m in New York, I am planning to see the Statue of Liberty and go to a Broadway play.
You will want to avoid two common subordination mistakes: placing main ideas in subordinate clauses or phrases and placing too many subordinate ideas in one sentence.
Here’s an example of a sentence that subordinates the main idea:
The problem here is that main idea is embedded in a subordinate clause. Instead of focusing on the distinctive features of the LoDo neighborhood, the sentence makes it appear as if the main idea is the neighborhood’s location in Denver. Here’s a revision:
A sentence with too many subordinated ideas is confusing and difficult to read.
Here’s an example:
And here’s a possible revision: