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16.3 Using Subordination and Coordination

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn how to use subordination to include main ideas and minor ideas in the same sentence.
  2. Learn how to use coordination to include two or more ideas of equal weight in a single sentence.
  3. Within a single sentence, learn to keep subordinated ideas to a minimum.

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

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:

  • I will come to your house or meet you at the gym, whichever works best for you.

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”:

  • Smaller sentence 1: The number of students who live at home and take online college classes has risen in the past ten years.
  • Smaller sentence 2: The rise has been due to increased marketing of university online programs.
  • Larger sentence using subordination (version 1): The number of students living at home and taking online college classes has risen in the past ten years because of increased marketing of university online programs.
  • Larger sentence using subordination (version 2): Because of increased marketing of university online programs, the number of students living at home and taking online courses has risen in the past ten years.

Coordination

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”)..

Examples

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).

Controlling Emphasis

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.

Subordination Pitfalls

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:

  • LoDo, a charming neighborhood featuring great art galleries, restaurants, cafés, and shops, is located in the Lower Downtown District of Denver.

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:

  • LoDo, located in the Lower Downtown District of Denver, is a charming neighborhood featuring great art galleries, restaurants, cafés, and shops.

A sentence with too many subordinated ideas is confusing and difficult to read.

Here’s an example:

  • Television executives, who make the decisions about which shows to pull and which to extend, need to consider more than their individual opinions so that they do not pull another Star Trek mess-up where they don’t recognize a great show when they see it, while balancing the need to maintain a schedule that appeals to a broad audience, considering that new types of shows don’t yet have a broad following.

And here’s a possible revision:

  • Television executives need to consider more than their individual opinions when they decide which shows to pull and which to extend. Many years ago, some of these very executives decided that Star Trek should be canceled, clearly demonstrating they do not always know which shows will become great. Television executives should also balance the need to maintain a schedule that appeals to a broad audience with an appreciation for new types of shows that don’t yet have a broad following.

Key Takeaways

  • Subordination refers to ideas in a sentence that are of less importance than the main idea. Subordinated ideas are typically connected to the rest of the sentence with a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun.
  • Coordination refers to two or more ideas of equal weight in a single sentence. Coordinated ideas are usually joined to each other with coordinating conjunctions or correlative conjunctions.
  • You can create emphasis using subordination and coordination within longer sentences.
  • Problems with subordination include placing main ideas in subordinated clauses and phrases and including too many subordinated ideas in one sentence.

Exercises

  1. Write a sentence about the thrill of deep-sea diving and include the subordinate idea that the scenery is often amazing.
  2. Write a sentence including intercollegiate sports and intramural sports as coordinating ideas of equal weight.
  3. Write a sentence using “new car” as an emphasized main idea and “red interior” as a less emphasized subordinated idea.
  4. Write a sentence using “blogs” and “Facebook” as coordinated ideas with equal emphases.
  5. Using ideas of your own, write a sentence that demonstrates the use of subordinating ideas.
  6. Using ideas of your own, write a sentence that demonstrates the use of coordinating ideas.