prepositions? conjunctions? what’s the difference?

I had a number of students in my class using ‘however’ and ‘therefore’ as conjunctions and this was starting to grate on me, so yesterday I gave them a mini-lecture on the matter. I started out by putting ‘but’ and ‘however’ on the blackboard and asking them what part of speech each of the words was. Dead silence. Finally, one guy (one of my better students, incidentally) asked if they were prepositions.

I was about ready to pronounce the demise of Western civilization.

Now don’t get me wrong here. This isn’t a particularly important matter (students get much more important things wrong, trust me). Nor is it the sort of thing that I would expect most people to know. On the other hand, I’m teaching a class of smart students at an elite university. And not a single one recognizes ‘but’ as a conjunction?? So what did they learn in high school?


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2 Responses to prepositions? conjunctions? what’s the difference?

  1. Mother of the bride says:

    You might ask the other adult in your household if she learned that information in high school. I would hazard a guess that she did not, until she took a couple of the higher level classes taught by an outstanding English teacher. Students who did not take those classes received little of that type of instruction.

    Don’t give up on Western Civ just yet:)

  2. fustianist says:

    I did know that “but” was a conjunction! And I’d given my students a similar lesson on “however” in the previous week 🙂 But no, parsing sentences is not what I’ve been trained to do, which is why I wish I had a degree in “literature,” rather than “English.”


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