Definition of term Coordinators and subordinators

Coordinators link units of equal status, either clauses or phrases [clauses contain a verb, whereas phrases do not, and main clauses can stand alone, whereas subordinate clauses cannot]. The principal coordinators are the conjunctions and, but, or. Subordinators link subordinate clauses to their hosts, and there are many of them: if, since, although, whether, as, after, because, before, how, once, than, that, though, til, when, where, while ...

Coordinators

Coordinators-structure Coordinators-structure Coordinators-structure

Subordinators

After returning from America, Columbus and his sons went to court over the profits.

If they had been given their share, they wouldn’t have gone to court.

Columbus sailed to the Canaries, where he restocked his provisions.

Columbus discovered America, although he was seeking Cathay.

When a coordinator is present, it is known as syndetic coordination. When coordinators are absent, it is known as asyndetic coordination.

Syndetic: Swiftly and safely, they sailed the Atlantic.

Asyndetic: Swiftly, safely, they sailed the Atlantic.


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Coordination Types

Demonstration of term Coordinators and subordinators in action

Read this poem, and try to spot how the clauses and phrases are linked together, then click below to see coordinators and subordinators made explicit.

In the poem below, the coordinators which link independent clauses together are in red, subordinators which link host and subordinate clauses together in blue, and orange and green for phrasal coordinators and subordinators.

Columbus

Once upon a time there was an Italian,

And some people thought he was a rapscallion,

But he wasn’t offended,

Because other people thought he was splendid,

And he said the world was round,

And everybody made an uncomplimentary sound,

But he went and tried to borrow some money from Ferdinand

But Ferdinand said America was a bird in the bush and he’d rather have a berdinand,

But Columbus’ brain was fertile, it wasn’t arid,

And he remembered that Ferdinand was married,

And he thought, there is no wife like a misunderstood one,

Because if her husband thinks something is a terrible idea she is bound to think it a good one,

So he perfumed his handkerchief with bay rum and citronella,

And he went to see Isabella,

And he looked wonderful but he had never felt sillier,

And she said, I can’t place the face but the aroma is familiar,

And Columbus didn’t say a word,

All he said was, I am Columbus, the fifteenth-century Admiral Byrd,

And, just as he thought, her disposition was very malleable,

And she said, Here are my jewels, and she wasn’t penurious like Cornelia the mother of the Gracchi, she wasn’t referring to her children, no, she was referring to her jewels, which were very very valuable,

So Columbus said, Somebody show me the sunset and somebody did and he set sail for it,

And he discovered America and they put him in jail for it,

And the fetters gave him welts,

And they named America after somebody else,

So the sad fate of Columbus ought to be pointed out to every child and every voter,

Because it has a very important moral, which is, Don’t be a discoverer, be a promoter.

Columbus

1.

Once upon a time there was an Italian,

2.

And some people thought he was a rapscallion,

3.

But he wasn’t offended,

4.

Because other people thought he was splendid,

5.

And he said the world was round,

6.

And everybody made an uncomplimentary sound,

7.

But he went and tried to borrow some money from Ferdinand

8.

But Ferdinand said America was a bird in the bush and he’d rather have a berdinand,

9.

But Columbus’ brain was fertile, it wasn’t arid,

10.

And he remembered that Ferdinand was married,

11.

And he thought, there is no [wife like a misunderstood one],

12.

Because if her husband thinks something is a terrible idea she is bound to think it a good one,

13.

So he perfumed his handkerchief [with bay rum and citronella],

14.

And he went to see Isabella,

15.

And he looked wonderful but he had never felt sillier,

16.

And she said, I can’t place the face but the aroma is familiar,

17.

And Columbus didn’t say a word,

18.

All he said was, I am Columbus, the fifteenth-century Admiral Byrd,

19.

And, just as he thought, her disposition was very malleable,

20.

And she said, Here are my jewels, and she wasn’t [penurious like Cornelia] the mother of the Gracchi, she wasn’t referring to her children, no, she was referring to her jewels, which were very very valuable,

21.

So Columbus said, Somebody show me the sunset and somebody did and he set sail for it,

22.

And he discovered America and they put him in jail for it,

23.

And the fetters gave him welts,

24.

And they named America after somebody else,

25.

So the sad fate of Columbus ought to be pointed out to [every child and every voter],

26.

Because it has a very important moral, which is, Don’t be a discoverer, be a promoter.


Hide explicit coordinators and subordinators.

Click here to see coordinators and subordinators in the above poem made explicit.

Commentary

The humour in this poem owes a good deal to its formal qualities: the pairing end-rhyme, coupled with the stretching of the metre. There’s an obvious cleverness about rhyme, and Ogden Nash was a talented rhymester. During his lifetime (1904-1971) his work was popular and known as ‘light verse’. Light verse needs just as much crafting as the weightier sort; the poem is mainly hung together by means of coordinating conjunctions, and the stretching of the metre in lines 20 and 21 works against the default backdrop of the many short coordinated main clauses. Children are usually taught not to use multiple ands in close proximity because children learn subordinate clauses late in their development, so that lots of main clauses all linked by and sounds immature. The cleverness of the rhyme-scheme, and the pragmatics of Columbus’s cunning, are juxtaposed against the simplicity of the coordinated short main clauses. The incongruity amuses.

Literary Exercise

Find the coordinators and subordinators in the text below, and consider their purpose in the text. First read the text, then click below to see the coordinators and subordinators made explicit.

In the poem below, the coordinators which link independent clauses together are in red, subordinators which link host and subordinate clauses together in blue, and orange and green for phrasal coordinators and subordinators.

It was a city asleep and deathly silent in the emptiness of the night and Titus rose to his feet and trembled as he saw it, not only with the cold but with astonishment that while he had slept, and while he had drawn the marks in the dust, and while he had watched the beetle, this city should have been there all the time and that a turn of his head might have filled his eyes with the domes and spires of silver; with shimmering slums; with parks and arches and a threading river. And all upon the flanks of a great mountain, hoary with forests.

But as he stared at the high slopes of the city his feelings were not those of a child or a youth, nor of an adult with romantic leanings. His responses were no longer clear and simple, for he had been through much since he had escaped from Ritual, and he was no longer child or youth, but by reason of his knowledge of tragedy, violence and the sense of his own perfidy, he was far more than these, though less than man.

Kneeling there he seemed most lost. Lost in the bright grey night. Lost in his separation. Lost in a swath of space in which the city lay like one-thing, secure in its cohesion, a great moon-bathed creature that throbbed in its sleep as from a single pulse.

It was a city [asleep and deathly silent] in the emptiness of the night and Titus rose to his feet and trembled as he saw it, [not only with the cold but with astonishment] that while he had slept, and while he had drawn the marks in the dust, and while he had watched the beetle, this city should have been there all the time and that a turn of his head might have filled his eyes with the [domes and spires] of silver; with shimmering slums; with [parks and arches and a threading river. And all] upon the flanks of a great mountain, hoary with forests.

But as he stared at the high slopes of the city his feelings were not those of [a child or a youth, nor of an adult] with romantic leanings. His responses were no longer [clear and simple], for he had been through much since he had escaped from Ritual, and he was no longer [child or youth], but by reason of his knowledge of [tragedy, violence and the sense of his own perfidy], he was [far more than these, though less than man].

Kneeling there he seemed most lost. Lost in the bright grey night. Lost in his separation. Lost in a swath of space in which [the city lay like one-thing], secure in its cohesion, a great moon-bathed creature that [throbbed in its sleep as from a single pulse].


Hide explicit coordinators and subordinators.

Click here to see the coordinators and subordinators in the above text made explicit.


What is the purpose of the coordinators and subordinators in the text above? Write your answer below:


Compare your answer with the sample answer below:

Commentary

By contrast with Ogden Nash’s text, no single connective form predominates. Peake uses coordinators and subordinators in more or less the same amounts. He also uses asyndetic coordination:

Kneeling there he seemed most lost. [Lost in the bright grey night ] and [Lost in his separation ] and [Lost in a swath of space ] in which the city lay like one-thing.

Don’t be mislead by the punctuation here; there is only one finite verb (seemed). We can repunctuate this as: “Kneeling there he seemed most lost: lost in the bright grey night, lost in his separation, lost in a swath of space in which the city lay like one-thing.” We can supply the elided clause and phrase connectives as: “Kneeling there he seemed most lost: [lost in the bright grey night] and [lost in his separation] and [lost in a swath of space] in which the city lay like one-thing.” Nor is this the only repetition:

... while he had slept, and while he had drawn the marks in the dust, and while he had watched the beetle ...

And there is also repetition of the preposition with in the series of coordinated phrases:

... with the [domes and spires and arches and a threading river. And all]

The cumulative effect of so many coordinated and subordinated clauses and repetition is rhetorical, befitting the semantic content, which is of the young Titus maturing as a result of experience and duress. For some readers, the effect will be dramatic and awe-provoking. For others, the effect will be more one of melodrama, perhaps even sententiousness. (I use sententiousness in its sense given under OED sententious adj. 3. ‘affectedly or pompously formal’.)

Teaching Point

Coordinators alone tend to make a text sound simple; a multiplicity of subordinators will make a text sound complex. Identifying clause and phrase connectors is all part of clause analysis. Typically, it is hard to do at first, but you get better at it the more you practice. If you can analyse clauses correctly you can be confident of the underpinnings of a text, and you will always have something accurate to say that is worth saying, so it’s a skill worth acquiring.

A fleet of three ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria