Conjunctions are joiners or connectors. They communicate meaning by joining or connecting different words, phrases, clauses, an even entire sentences. Correlative conjunctions convey a sense of relationship between the two parts they join or connect together in pairs. Observe this list of correlative conjunctions.
- both / and
- either / or
- neither / nor
- not only / but also
- whether / or
Both halves of a particular pair are required for proper usage. Of these correlative conjunction pairs, the ones writers misuse the most is not only / but also.
Observe the example sentence in the graphic above. The mistake highlighted with red underline appears quite frequently. And there are actually three options for correcting it.
The main problem lies with the comma. The writer has placed the comma, a punctuation mark indicating structure by distinguishing different parts of the sentence, in the midst of a correlative conjunction pair which indicates structure by joining or connecting. In other words, the comma is a wedge splitting a joint.
The writer very likely introduced that wedge by failing to recognize the distinctions between spoken and written English. When speaking aloud words appearing in written English, people generally introduce a pause when encountering a comma. However, that does not mean that a pause in spoken English will always translate into a comma in written English. It doesn’t.
The writer has three options for correction. First, the writer may choose to omit the comma. The pair of correlative conjunctions is not only and but also. A comma placed between them is a wedge splitting apart the joint created by using each part of the correlative conjunction air. Removing the comma removes the wedge and “solidifies” the joint. Using this option, the sentence becomes
All else being equal, each of these options for correction is equally appropriate. The writer’s discretion can decide which option prevails.
However, when using correlative conjunction pairs, don’t let the common error of using an inappropriate comma prevail upon you. Skip the comma with correlative conjunction pairs, and make your writing more effective.