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Hans Cristian P. Galendez

The Meaning and Use Of Coordinating Conjunction

A straightforward account of the meaning of the coordinating conjunctions might look like






Kharxz and Karz are going into

business together.


Show contrast

Kharxz is hardworking, but Karz

is lazy.


But at the same time

Karz is lazy, yet well inentioned.



Neither man had much money,

so they decided to collaborate.




One or the other alternatives is


I hope they succeed, for this

has been a dream come true for
both men.
They are determined to make it
or to go bakruptin the process.


Conjoins two negative

sentences, both of which are

Kharxz doesnt give up easily,

nor does Karz.

While this account may well be satisfactory for low level ESL/EFL students, its
straightforwardness is deceptive.
The general idea is that the truth of the statement
Stu is a cook and Fred is a waiter.
is a function of the truth of each individual conjunct. So as long as the conjunct is
true, then the entire conjoined statement is true; if one conjunct is false, the
statement is false.
However, once we get beyond such stilted-sounding sentences to ones which
are likely to be uttered more frequently, problem arise:
Fred fell down, and he hurt his foot badly.
* Fred hurt his foot badly, and he fell down.
The problem in the second sentence does not lie in the question of whether and
is truth-conditional or not: after all, it is true that if Fred fell down and hurt his foot,
the Fred did hurt his foot, and he did fall down. The problem is that the he are
concludes in the first case that Freds hurting his foot was a result of his having
fallen. If the order of claused reversed, as in the second example above, we do not
come to that conclusion; if anything, we might conclude the opposite: that his falling
was the result of his foot injury.
There would therefore be ambiguity in the word and; as in other case s of
lexical ambiguity, the listener or reader simply has to figure out from the context of
utterances whether one meaning or the other is intended.
Blakemore (1992) argues that when we use the conjunction and, we may intend
to draw the listeners/readers attention to something over and above what is
expressed by the individual conjuncts; the use of and is motivated, in other words, by


Schiffrin (1987) examine the conjunction and as mark of speaker-continuation, with which a speaker
signals that the discourse to follow is in some way connected with what has come before. The
connection may be away to seize back a conversional turn that has been interrupted by someone else,
thereby indicating that the original speaker has not finished. A speaker who wishes to continue a
monologue, but needs to catch his o her breath, does well, then, to signal this wish by ending with an
uttered and just prior to pause.
One type of contrast is usually called denial-of-expectation. This use, often called adversative, has
to do with the violation of reasonable expectation: what is expected after a reading of the first
conjunct turns out not to be true from a reading of the second. Some examples are the following:
He is friendly but/yet introverted.
He worked slowly but/yet diligently.
They tried for three hours to steer the boat from storm, but/yet the boat sank.
Theyve had a terrible time up to now, but/yet theyll probably succeed in the end.
She told us that Athens was in this direction, but/yet shes mistaken.
As such examples show, but/yet may be used where the violation of expectations is not especially
strong; in the last example above, it is not necessary that we expect the directions that people give to
be correct all the time. However, we do tend to trust others directions, and we find our trust
misplaced if the directions are faulty; so the issue of expectation probably plays a part in the choice of
The other major use of but involves a real semantic contrast, one in which exactly two entities or
qualities are set adjacent to each other in order to focus on one or more semantic differences in them.
Most often they may involve polar opposition, but the following examples show that they need to do
Winter is warm in Miami but cold in Moscow.
This is not a rose but a geranium.
Nimbus clouds threaten rain, but cirrus clouds do not.
Although it is possible to imagine circumstances in which some of these sequences might involve
denials of expectations, in general no real denials of expectations need be present here.


When seen as a discourse marker, but can be, among other things, a sign of speakerreturn: when one party to a conversation has strayed for some reason from the main
point of monologue, but can be used to mark the attempt to recover the last point.
The meaning of the conjunction or has been characterized by logically-oriented linguists
in a truth-conditional way: any sentence X or Y is true so long as one of its conjuncts is
true. If both the conjuncts are false, the statement is false; if both are true, the
statement is true. Thus if someone says,
Well serve carrots or (well serve) peas.
with are out a specific commitment to doing only one of these things, one might normally
say that the conditions of the statement are fulfilled as long as we do one or both of
these things; it is unlikely that if we serve both carrots and peas someone would accuse
us of having spoken falsely.
Logicians might insists, as those in Gamut (1991) do, that problems are matters of
context, not of word meaning: whatever the world is like, it still holds that the semantic
meaning of simple or is the logical one.
We thus seem to have a problem similar to that for and, where semantic meaning and
pragmatic meanings are confounded. Since ambiguities can arise through mismatched
intentions, English does have correlative form either . . . or, which seems, for most
speakers, to have the exclusive readings. The sequences
(a) either X or Y but not both . . . (= exclusive)
(b) either X or Y or both . . . (= inclusive)
(c) X and/or Y . . . (= inclusive or exclusive)
serve the same purpose in an even more emphatic way.

Or may have additional senses that go beyond the inclusive-exclusive distinction. One
involves an imperative, or quasi-warning, sentence followed by statement of
Stop the loud music, or I will call the police.
Buy me that toy, or I will scream
You have to fix the car, or we cant go on our trip.
In such cases or may be paraphrased lexically as otherwise. These sentences may also be
naturally paraphrased syntactically with such conditional structures as
If you do not stop that loud music, (then) I will call the police.
If you do not buy me that toy, (then) I will scream.
If you do not fix the car, (then) we cant go on our trip.
Once again, given a more fully explicated form of imperatives, a logician would likely hold
or to the constant semantic meaning while leaving the pragmatics to others.
A further use of or is somewhat more puzzling:
This is a matsutake, or pine mushroom.
The boards have to be mitered, or cut at an angle.
Or is frequently use in this way at the phrasal level in definitions or paraphrases. While
the reading of or in that sentence is necessarily exclusive, in the two sentences above, the
reading seems necessarily inclusive. Pragmatically, there seems to be something
metalinguistic happening in such sequences


At the clausal level, this metalinguistic version of or shows up in what often
appear as self-corrections when a speaker has not expressed himself or herself
satisfactorily. For example:
We have to help the children. Or, more precisely, we have to help them to help
You are a joy to be around. Or, to put it another way, I love you.
Here, the or may be interpreted in reference to the prior statement itself in such
a way as to suggest, What I intended in the first sentence was . . .
These uses of or do not necessarily matched the full range of uses of any single
word in other languages.
The conjunction so might be seen essentially as the marker that relates causes with
results, as in
The rope broke, so the box fell down
She has a cold, so she wont be coming with us today.
However, Blakemore (1988) calls so more generally an inferential markerthat
is, a conjunction that relates an inference in the second clause to a proposition in the
first. For Blakemore, the causal reading is what she calls an enriched
interpretation. It is possible to use so where no expression of cause is desired, but
where logical inferences are strong, as in example like:
Theres five dollars in my wallet, so I didnt spend all my money then.
The cars in the garage, so Susan must be here.
This use of so can be used across interlocutors, where one supplies the initial
proposition and the other supplies in the inference:
A: The LGB Corporation has just gone out of business.
B. So weve lost our investment.
So may even be used, as Blakemore points out, where no prior utterance at all has


One final comment on the meanings of conjunctions has to do with the
alternation between and and or structures in affirmative and negative
statements, respectively. Consider the following sets:
a. They have a house and a car.
b. They dont have a house and a car.
c. They dont have a house or a car.
Most native speakers of English will tend to find the proper negation of the
proposition expressed in (a) to be (c), not (b), although negation seems to have
operated on (b) in the normal way.
What sentence (c) expresses is:
It is not true that they have a house. It is also not true they have a car.
In contrast to that, they typical logical interpretation of the (b) sentence is:
It is not true that they have both a house and a car. It is true that they have either a
house or a car.
We find a parallel in the structure already presented in Chapter 10: the
alteration between some and any. Recall that the standard negation of
She has some books.
is the sentence:
She doesnt have any books.
Recall, too, that the sentence:
She doesnt have some books.
admits of the interpretation:
There are some books that she doesnt have.
implying that there are some books that she does have. As is true with the some/any
distinction, the and/or alternation is likely to be the source of many learner errors; the
two structures may even merit treatment together in class.