How connectors work

You may have already figured out that connectors connect things together.

Here's a connector, 'and', connecting some qualities in a list:

Our apartment was bright and warm and welcoming.

That's probably nothing new to you, but connectors are much more varied than just 'and'! Can you find the two connectors in this next snippet?

Morally, if not legally, we act as guardians rather than owners.

Do you notice anything about what is being connected?

The answer is similar word groups: noun groups with noun groups, adverb groups with adverb groups (and adjectives with adjectives, etc).

Try mixing them up: "Morally, if not owners, we act as guardians rather than legally." It's gibberish!

So these kinds of connectors like to connect elements of the same type.

Ooh, someone's being tricky! Okay, fine let's take a closer look (but if you're not interested in a technical digression, skip this bit!).

First, let's consider the original snippet:

We act as guardians rather than owners.

In this situation, we intuitively recognise 'guardians' and 'owners' as noun groups nested inside a larger prepositional phrase that begins with 'as', which effectively turns them both into adverbs—describing how or in what way we act.

We could rewrite it as:

We act as guardians rather than as owners.

That's why this particular 'scrambled' version still makes sense:

We act as guardians rather than legally.

Normally, an adverb such as 'legally' shouldn't be able to connect to a noun such as 'guardians'.

But in this sentence, 'as guardians' creates a prepositional/adverbial phrase, which let's us make sense of the connection to the adverb 'legally' (as in, "We act as guardians, which doesn't necessarily mean we act legally").

Here's a few more examples of connectors:

'for', 'and', 'nor', 'but', 'or', 'yet', 'so', 'then', 'however', 'moreover', 'namely', 'nevertheless', 'meanwhile', 'subsequently', 'furthermore'...

While we call these things connectors in Writelike, you'll find them called a few different things in the real world.

We don't need to go into details now, but it's worth knowing that the following terms overlap to varying degrees:

  • 'Connector' – a loose term for all words, phrases and punctuation that can be used to join stuff together.
  • 'Connective' – mostly interchangeable with connector, but sometimes excludes punctuation.
  • 'Conjunction' – a joining word like AND, but not punctuation, connector adverbs—like 'however', 'namely'—or phrases—like 'rather than', 'even though'.
  • 'Cohesive device' – a really broad category that includes some connectors, but also things like pronouns and a few other word types that improve the 'flow' of a piece of writing.
Choose one of the snippets above and rewrite it using different connectors. Does it work?

You'll probably find that some connectors work better than others in some situations. For example, "we act as guardians meanwhile owners" doesn't make sense by itself.

As with a lot of language, sometimes you just have to play around and see what works.