ACT English and SAT Writing Tips: Correlating Conjunctions

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Some ACT and SAT questions ACT English and SAT Writing: Correlating Conjunctions (Conjunction Train)may test your knowledge of correlating conjunctions, which are pairs of coordinating conjunctions:

either...or          neither...nor         both...and        not only...but also       
not...but            whether...or  

When these words are acting as conjunctions, they must be with their proper partner, which is why both the ACT and SAT will try to trip you up by using a correlating conjunction with an imposter sidekick.

The first four listed above—either..or, neither..nor, both..and, and not only..but also—cause the most problems on the two tests.


As you can see, not only is partnered with and...also. The correct correlation is not only..but also:

Plant cell walls function not only to maintain cell shape, which provides structural and mechanical support for the cell and the plant, but also to prevent expansion when water enters the cell.      [Correct]

There are no exceptions to this rule. If you see not only acting as a conjunction in a sentence on the ACT or SAT, but also must appear elsewhere in the sentence. The correct answer is choice (B).

There are several popular mis-pairings to watch for on the ACT and SAT. The test makers most often uses the following incorrect pairs:


      either X  and Y     

      neither X  or Y    

      both plus Y       

      both X  as well as Y      

      not only X  also Y      

      not only X  and also Y      

      not only X  but Y     


Note that the words either and neither can be used as pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs, but when they are used as conjunctions, they must be placed with their proper correlating partner. Let’s examine a question that tests one of these words as a conjunction:


 Neither should never be with or. To correct the baseball sentence, use neither with nor:

Neither  Pete Rose, the record holder for the most number of hits in Major League Baseball, nor  Shoeless Joe Jackson, the only rookie to hit over .400, has been admitted to the Hall of Fame. [Correct]

The error is contained in choice (A).

When used as a pair, certain conjunctions correlate only with pre-selected partners. Make sure they aren't stepping out with another on your ACT or SAT!

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Photo: "Conjunction Junction" courtesy of Kreg Steppe