Conjunction vs. Adverb

by Ivan Kenneally, Demand Media

Part of what makes the English language so difficult to learn is that some of the fundamental elements of its grammar are ill-defined. Also, although English has no shortage of rules, it has an abundance of exceptions to those rules. Generally speaking, adverbs and conjunctions are so distinct in function you wouldn’t think one could be confused for another. However, the class of adverbs is so expansively defined it includes grammatical parts that don’t intuitively fit within it.

Preliminary Definitions

According to “The Chicago Manual of Style,” an adverb is a “word that qualifies, limits, or modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb...” -- for example, “She paints beautifully.” In this sentence, the adverb “beautifully” modifies the verb “paints.” A conjunction is broadly understood as any word or phrase that connects two sentences or parts of a sentence within a clause. The most common conjunctions are “and,” “or” and “but.”

Disjunctive Conjunctions

Disjunctive conjunctions serve the purpose of separating competing statements or choices. The most common disjunctive conjunctions are “either,” “neither,” “or” and “nor," as in “Billy doesn’t like ice cream or cake.” In this sentence, the two options, “cake “ and “ice cream," are contrasted by the “or” between them. Sometimes the adverb “otherwise” can be used as a disjunctive conjunction, according to “The Chicago Manual of Style.” For example: “You may stay in your chair; otherwise, go home.”

Final Conjunctions

Final conjunctions are used to signal a conclusion or consequence. Some common instances of final conjunctions include “therefore,” “thus” and “as a result.” Also, it’s not unusual to see the adverb “consequently” used to function as a final conjunction. For example: “Billy’s team scored the most points and, consequently, won the game.” According to “The Chicago Manual of Style,” a disjunctive conjunctive conjoins two clauses, one of which provides a reason for believing the other.

Interrogative Adverbs

An interrogative adverb typically is used to modify a verb nestled within a question. For example, in “Dan asked where we were supposed to meet,” the interrogative adverb “where” modifies the verb “meet.” “How,” “why,” “what” and “when” are fairly common examples of an interrogative adverb. This kind of adverb often doubles as a conjunction. Consider the following case: “Barbara explained to us what we were supposed to do.” The interrogative adverb “what” connects the two main thoughts of the sentence.

Style Your World With Color


  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition; Adverbs; pg. 183, section 5.143
  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition; Conjunctions, pg.191, section 5.185
  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition; Conjunctions, pg. 192, section 5.186

About the Author

Based in New York City, Ivan Kenneally has been writing about politics, education and American culture since 2006. His articles have appeared in national publications like the 'Washington Times," "Christian Science Monitor," "Cosmopolitan"and "Esquire." He has an Master of Arts in political theory from the New School for Social Research.

Photo Credits

  • Zedcor Wholly Owned/ Images