A conjunction is a part of speech that joins two separate ideas. I like to tell my students they are similar to a bridge between words, phrases, or clauses. Sometimes the bridge adds information, gives alternatives, or contrasts ideas. In Spanish, conjunctions come in TWO different types, depending on the “value” of the ideas being joined or connected.
- Coordinating — y (and), o (or), pero (but)…
- Subordinating — como (like), con tal que (as long as), apesar de (in spite of)…
Table of Contents
For a review of grammar terms used in the post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end.
What are coordinating conjunctions?
Coordinating conjunctions join words or clauses of similar value. They connect words of the same class, such as apples and oranges (both nouns and fruits!). For example: Me gustan las matemáticas y la ciencia. (I like math and science). Coordinating conjunctions can be used to introduce more information, alternatives, or to contrast two ideas. Coordinating conjunctions in Spanish are:
- y (and)
→The conjunction y (and) adds information!
A mí me gustan las manzanas y las peras.
I like apples and pears.
Quiero conocer Francia e Irlanda.
I want to visit France and Ireland.
→ It’s replaced by e (and) when the word after the conjunction starts with an “i” sound (including words that start with “hi” (historia (history)).
Estudio geografía e historia.
I study geography and history.
When the conjunction y is followed by a diphthong ia (hia), ie (hie), io (hio), the conjunction y (and) does not change.
Necesito un poco de sal y hielo para el experimento.
I need some salt and ice for the experiment.
- ni (nor, not even) and ni…ni (neither…nor)
→This conjunction is used as the negative form of y (and), therefore it will be found in a negative sentence.
No tengo ni tiempo ni ganas de ir al gimnasio hoy.
I don’t have neither time nor desire to go to the gym today.
⤷ TIP Colloquially, the first ni tends to be omitted.
No compré ni un calcetín porque no tengo dinero.
I didn’t even buy a sock because I don’t have money.
⤷ TIP Notice that this ni means “not even” which is a shortened version of ni siquiera (not even). Colloquially, siquiera (even) tends to be dropped!
→It can also be combined after the preposition sin (without).
No te enojes, pero fui al mercado sin ti ni mamá.
Don’t get mad, but I went to the market without you and Mom.
- o (or)
→This conjunction gives an alternative. It provides a choice in which only one possibility can be realized.
Ernesto va a estudiar ciencias o leyes.
Ernesto is going to study science or law.
¿Quieres este suéter u otro más oscuro?
Do you want this sweater or another one that is darker?
→ it’s replaced by u (or) when the word after the conjunction starts with an “o” sound (including words that start with “ho,” horno (oven)).
- pero (but)
This conjunction contrasts an idea. It shows opposition to the previous statement, but both statements can be true.
Mi mejor amiga es muy callada pero súper inteligente. My best friend is very quiet but super smart.
- mas (but)
Mas is similar in value to pero (but), however it’s not very common. It’s considered formal and can be found in literature more often than in spoken Spanish.
Estela quiere venir a la fiesta, mas no tiene tiempo.
Estela wants to come to the party, but does not have the time.
- sino (but rather)
This conjunction contradicts a previous statement which appears with negation no. When used in front of a conjugated verb, one must use “sino que” instead.
Ella no es de Panamá sino de Colombia.
She isn’t from Panama but from Colombia.
Yo no pedí café sino que pedí agua porque tenía mucha sed.
I did not order coffee but rather water because I was very thirsty.
Notice that both pero and sino can be translated as “but,” but they are not interchangeable. The main difference is that pero adds information to the first statement, whereas sino is used between two contrasting ideas, in which the second statement corrects the first.
Carlos es estudiante pero quiere ser maestro.
Carlos is a student, but wants to be a teacher.
Carlos no es estudiante sino maestro.
Carlos is not a student, but rather a teacher.
In the first example, both statements are true: Carlos is both a student and would like to be a teacher. In the second example, only one of the two statements is true: he is a teacher and not a student.
No me gustan los deportes pero me gusta el fútbol.
I don’t like sports, however I like soccer.
No me gustan los deportes sino los videojuegos.
I don’t like sports but rather video games.
In the first example, pero introduces an exception to a category. In the second example, sino is used to show the choice out of two possible items.
- que (because)
Que as a coordinating conjunction is used to connect two sentences. It’s used colloquially to introduce a consequence.
No comas tanto que te vas a enfermar.
Don’t eat so much because you will get sick!
Que is mostly used as a subordinating conjunction — keep reading to find out more!
What are subordinating conjunctions?
Subordinating conjunctions join items of different hierarchies based on different functions. The format of sentences using subordinating conjunctions both in Spanish and English is as follows:
independent/main clause + subordinating conjunction + dependent/subordinate clause
I will go to the party as long as you attend with me.
My best friend likes to dance more than me.
Tell us what you heard before the boss comes back.
Dependent or subordinate clauses can’t stand on their own. They must be attached to an independent clause via a subordinating conjunction. Let’s see which words those are!
- The conjunction que (that) is the most used subordinating conjunction, and it’s used to introduce a subordinate clause like the English conjunction “that.” However, in Spanish, this conjunction cannot be omitted.
Pienso que Ernesto va a llegar un poco tarde por causa del tráfico.
I think (that) Ernesto is going to be late due to traffic.
It is a complementizer conjunction and mostly used in these scenarios:
- To add a complement to a verb (typically followed by the subjunctive).
Espero que puedas venir. I hope (that) you can come.
- Dijo que no quiere ir. He said (that) he doesn’t want to go.
- Indirect commands
Me pidió que trajera más platos. She asked me to bring more plates.
- To add a complement to a verb (typically followed by the subjunctive).
The word que (qué) has several other functions, it can be a Spanish relative pronoun, an interrogative pronoun or an exclamative pronoun.
Que (that) can also be combined with other words to create more precise conjunctions, as you will see in the following sections. We will briefly review the conjunctions that require the subjunctive. However, if you want more information on how to use conjunctions with the subjunctive or indicative, check out “How to use the Spanish subjunctive with conjunctions?”
- Conjunctions of cause
These conjunctions introduce the cause or reason of something presented in the independent clause.
- porque (because)
- dado que (given that)
- puesto que (because since)
- ya que (since)
- pues (so, because, since)
- como (since)
Voy a comer unas papitas porque tengo hambre.
I am going to eat some chips because I am hungry.
⤷ TIP These conjunctions are followed by the indicative (notice below that como has other uses, so it can be followed by the subjunctive in other cases).
- Conjunctions of comparison
The conjunction introduces a comparison between one clause and the other.
- más que (more than)
- menos que (less than)
- igual que (same as)
- como (like, as)
Mi perro pesa más que el perrito de mi mejor amiga.
My dog weighs more than my best friend’s dog.
- Conjunctions of condition
The conjunction introduces something that could happen if something else happens as well.
- si (if)
- como (if)
- con tal que (as long as)
- siempre que / siempre y cuando (as long as)
- a condición de que (on the condition that)
- a pesar de que (in spite of, even though)
- a menos que (unless)
- a no ser que (unless)
- mientras (as long as)
Te pagaré si completas el trabajo a tiempo.
I will pay you if you complete the work on time.
Visitaré Holanda con tal que me den tiempo libre en el verano.
I will visit the Netherlands as long as they give me time off in the summer.
⤷ TIP These conjunctions will trigger the use of subjunctive in the subordinate clause. The conjunction si (if) triggers the imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive in unlikely or impossible hypothetical sentences in Spanish.
- Consecutive conjunctions
The content of the subordinate clause is a result or consequence from something in the main clause.
- así que (therefore, so)
- de manera / modo / forma que (such that, so that)
- tanto que (so much that)
Ella entregó su proyecto a tiempo así que ahora tiene la oportunidad de recibir crédito extra en el curso.
She turned in her project on time, therefore she now has the opportunity of receiving extra credit in the course.
⤷ TIP These conjunctions are used with the indicative; de manera / modo / forma que can trigger the subjunctive when used in the sense of finality (see below).
- Temporal conjunctions
They express a time relationship between the main clause and the dependent clause (“before,” “after,” “at the same time,” etc.)
- antes (de) que (before)
- después que (after)
- luego de que (after)
- mientras (while)
- cada vez que (every time that)
- apenas (as soon as)
- cuando (when)
- desde que (since)
- en cuanto (as soon as)
- hasta que (until)
Quiero volver al centro comercial antes que expiren los cupones de mi tienda favorita.
I want to return to the mall before the coupons for my favorite store expire.
⤷ TIP Antes (de) que always takes the subjunctive. The other temporal conjunctions use the subjunctive in the dependent clause when the main clause relates to a future situation:
Te avisaré en cuanto salga de la oficina.
I’ll let you know as soon as I leave the office.
- Final conjunctions
They express the finality or purpose of the main clause.
- para que (in order that)
- con el fin de que (with the goal of)
- con vista a (with aim to)
- de manera / modo / forma que (so that)
Mi papá trabajó días largos para que tuviéramos todo lo que quisiéramos.
My dad worked long days to give us everything we wanted.
⤷ TIP These conjunctions trigger the subjunctive in the subordinate clause.
- Conjunctions of concession
They are used to express an objection to the main clause, but the action is not impossible.
- si bien (while, even though)
- aun cuando (even when)
- aunque (although)
Deseo ir a la Ciudad de México aunque no tengo dinero.
I wish to go to Mexico City although I don’t have money.
⤷ TIP Use the indicative in the subordinate clause if the conjunction introduces a fact; use the subjunctive if making an assumption or hypothesis.
👉 For a summary of conjunctions that work with the subjunctive, we have prepared this list of Spanish conjunctions for you!
To sum it up
Conjunctions are words used to “bridge” words or clauses. In Spanish we have two types of conjunctions: coordinating and subordinating.
- Coordinating conjunctions add information, contrast information, or give alternatives
- Subordinating conjunctions are used to express finality, concession, establish temporal relationships, express consequences, or comparisons.
Do you want to practice using conjunctions in Spanish? Here is a practice activity I have created for you!
Clause: a clause is a group of words that make up a sentence. It contains a subject and a predicate. It can be independent (can stand alone) or dependent (needs another clause to make sense).
If you come early, we can go to the theater.
This sentence has TWO CLAUSES:
Main clause refers to a phrase that contains a subject and a conjugated verb, and communicates a complete thought.
A subordinate clause is a complement to a sentence’s main clause. It doesn’t express a complete thought, for which it is considered a dependent clause.