Conjunctions – and, but, or etc.
After the minor complications of the last few articles, I have decided to return to something much more straightforward to give all our brains a rest. Yes, we are going to talk about the words ‘and’ and ‘but’, along with one or two similar items.
These words are called conjunctions and for those of you who have just groaned, this is not as abstract as it may sound. Conjunction simply means something that joins things together and you can see this is the word itself. ‘Junction’ means ‘joining’ and ‘con’ often pops up in words in English and Spanish to mean ‘with’ or ‘together’, which is of course exactly what ‘and’ and ‘but’ do.
Let’s look at an example in English. Here are two short sentences:
“I am a teacher. I like teaching Spanish”.
If I were to speak exactly like that I would sound a bit childish and breathless, so I join it together with a conjunction:
“I am a teacher and I like teaching Spanish”.
The meaning of these two sentences flow together and don’t present us with any surprises, but if I wanted to express a contrast I would change the conjunction to ‘but’:
“I am a teacher, but I hate teaching Spanish.”
Most people reading this know that ‘and’ in Spanish is ‘y’ and ‘but’ is ‘pero’ giving us:
“Soy profesora y me gusta enseñar español.” and “Soy profesora pero odio enseñar español.”
Here is something about ‘y’ that you may not be aware of; when ‘y’ appears before a word that starts with the same sound in Spanish, ie beginning with ‘i’ or ‘hi’, it changes to ‘e’. For example:
‘El hombre es muy guapo, simpático e inteligente.’
The man is very handsome, nice and intelligent.
No, I don’t know who he is. I’ve just made him up!
A phrase sometimes seen in written Spanish is:
‘A nivel nacional e internacional’
At national and international level.
Another example written on delivery vans and lorries is:
Federico Gonzalez e hijos (and sons).
The reason is for the sake of clear pronunciation, because when the same vowel is found at the end of one word and the beginning of the next they inevitably become joined together in everyday speech:
‘Va a andar’ tends to sound like ‘vandar’.
Normally we just have to live with it, but in this case someone thought to do something about it!
Exactly the same thing happens with another conjunction; ‘or’ which is ‘o’ in Spanish. ‘O’ changes to ‘u’ before words beginning with the ‘o’ sound in Spanish which includes the ‘ho’ spelling. Honestly, I’m not just making this up!
¿Te gusta el azul claro u oscuro?
Do you like light or dark blue?
Es casa u hotel?
Is it a house or a hotel?
Going back to ‘pero’, the great challenge for us is to distinguish it in speech from ‘perro’ meaning ‘dog’. I sometimes set challenges for my students that complicate their lives more than is strictly necessary, which is what happened when I got a group of intermediate students to debate the differences between dogs and cats as pets. One poor lady’s struggle to make her point by starting with ‘pero perros …’ ‘but dogs ….’ for some reason has always stuck in my mind!
Sometimes conjunctions are made up of more than one word. This is the case with ‘either …. or’, which in Spanish is ‘o …. o’ and also ‘ni … ni’ meaning ‘neither … nor’.
O voy manaña o el miércoles.
I’ll either go tomorrow or on Wednesday.
Ni me gusta, ni me interesa.
I neither like it, nor does it interest me.
There are other kinds of conjunctions which make more complex combinations, such as ‘porque’ (because), ‘aunque’ (although), ‘así que’ (so). They are called subordinate conjunctions because they link an idea that depends on another in some way.
Me gusta leer los artículos de Jane porque aprendo mucho.
Me gusta leer los artículos de Jane aunque a veces los encuentro difíciles de entender.
Me gusta leer los artículos de Jane así que los leo cada semana sin falta.
Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.