37. Subordination: Grammar for Good Repetition




Saying something the reader already knows has its uses and can be done acceptably by means of subordination



The Guinlist post 24. Good and Bad Repetition suggests that repetition can be useful for linking or reminding, provided it is done in a grammatically right way. If it is not, it will look like bad repetition – the kind where the writer looks to have forgotten about the first mention or to be merely trying to fill up an empty page! In this post I wish to present a number of grammatical options that can ensure well-intended repetition is done in the right way. Most involve the grammatical concept of subordination.



Using a conjunction allows a writer to add a statement containing a verb to a sentence where there is already at least one other verb (see 25. Conjunction Positioning and 30. When to Write a Full Stop). It also shows how the added statement relates meaning-wise to the rest of the sentence (see 40. Conjunctions versus Connectors). Consider this example with the conjunction as:

(a) As unemployment RISES, wages WILL TEND to fall.

The two verbs required by as are capitalised. The meaning of as is that the event expressed after it (unemployment rises) is close in time to the other event in the sentence and is helping to cause it.

Conjunctions are subdivided into two kinds. Some make both of the linked statements sound equally important, while others make the one next to them sound less important than the other. The first kind, usually called “coordinating”, are exemplified by and, but, so, yet,  for, or and nor. More can be read about them in the posts 25. Conjunction Positioning and  36. Words Left Out to Avoid Repetition. The second kind, which are more numerous, are usually called “subordinating” and may be exemplified by as, because, when, if and although. They have the special ability to begin a sentence before both of the linked verbs, as in (a) above.

It is subordinating conjunctions used at the start of a sentence, as in (a) above, that are useful for good repetition. By making the words after them sound less important than the rest of the sentence, they indicate that the sentence is not “about” that, but rather is about what the rest of the sentence is saying. In other words, as shows sentence (a) to be not about unemployment but about wages.  The part after as is suggested to be “something you already know” – a crucial message in order to avoid bad repetition.

Mention should also be made of two “double” conjunctions that involve subordination: not only … but also … and not… any more than … . Details of their use are in the post 64. Double Conjunctions.



Most conjunctions can be paraphrased by a preposition of similar meaning. This can only happen, however, if the verb after the conjunction is either removed or given the –ing ending (see 84. Seven Things to Know About Prepositions and 71. Gerund and Participle Uses of “-ing”). Sentence (a) above can be written with a preposition like this:

(b) With a rise in unemployment, wages will tend to fall.

The original verb rises has here been made into the noun a rise after the preposition with. It could also be the participle rising either before or after unemployment (see 3. Multi-Use Words). Examples of other conjunctions with their corresponding prepositions are because/because of (see 61. “Since” versus “Because”), although/despite, before/before, as/like (see 53. “As”, “Like” and “Such As” and 56. Comparing with “Like” and “Unlike”), and not only/besides. Here is how these last can be used:

(c) Not only are bicycles cheap, but they also provide exercise.

(d) Besides being cheap, bicycles provide exercise.



A third way to subordinate an idea in a sentence is by changing a verb into a related noun (see 131. Uses of “Action” Nouns). Consider this example:

(e) The heat of the sun causes moisture on the ground to evaporate and rise into the atmosphere. This evaporation enables clouds to form.

The underlined noun is an abbreviated repetition of evaporate … into the atmosphere. The reader easily understands that the second sentence is not “about” this. A point to note here is that not all nouns derived from verbs in this way show subordination. Consider these:

(f) Because of the sun’s heat, there is evaporation of moisture on the ground.

(g) The sun’s heat causes evaporation of moisture on the ground.

Although evaporation could still be a repetition (the sentence being about what is evaporated, i.e. moisture), it could also be the main message of the sentence. A possible explanation of why it does not in that case start the sentence is that it is closely linked to moisture, which needs to follow the verb.



Another way to subordinate a repeated point is by means of who, whom, which or that (see 34. Relative Pronouns and Commas). Consider the statement Some television programmes are unsuitable for children. If we wished to say something about these television programmes in a much later sentence, where the reader needed first to be reminded of the original statement, we could repeat the sentence with which added before the verb, like this:

(h) Television programmes which are unsuitable for children …

The words which are unsuitable for children imply that the reader already knows that some TV programmes are unsuitable for children – in other words that a reminder is being given of this known fact. The new point (e.g. should not be shown in the early evening) could then be added onto the end of the sentence, its verb allowed there because of the joining nature of which.

Finally, good repetition can even be achieved with adjectives (and adjective-like alternatives, such as participles and adjectival nouns). This is because these are all similar to relative pronouns in describing nouns. The good repetition in (h) above can be rephrased with an adjective like this:

(i) Unsuitable television programmes should not be shown (to children) in the early evening.

A participle might be more likely where the verb in the corresponding relative clause was not a form of BE. If, for example, the words after which in (h) were require concentration, the subordination in (i) might be television programmes requiring concentration (see 52. Participles Placed Just After their Noun). Now here is a task to practise/test ability to use the various kinds of subordination.


PRACTICE: Repeat each point below by means of suitable words in the blank space after it (various answers are possible; suggestions are given below).


POINT 1: Large vehicles produce more greenhouse gases than small ones. Large vehicles …………………………………………….. should be taxed heavily.


POINT 2: A gap is inevitable between rich and poor. ……………………………………………. needs to be explained.


POINT 3: Exercise maintains physical fitness. Exercise ……………………………………………. ensures mental alertness.


POINT 4: New languages develop out of old ones. …………………………………………… is illustrated by the emergence of French from Latin.


POINT 5: Some insects use clever concealment devices to escape predators. …………………………………………… others are able to move very quickly.



ANSWERS 1(a).  Large vehicles, which produce more greenhouse gases than small ones, should be taxed heavily.  1(b).  Large vehicles, since they produce more greenhouse gases than small ones, should be taxed heavily.

2(a)  The inevitability of the gap between rich and poor needs to be explained. 2(b)  The inevitable gap between rich and poor needs to be explained. 2(c)  The fact that the gap between rich and poor is inevitable needs to be explained.

3(a)  Exercise not only maintains physical fitness, but also ensures mental alertness. 3(b)  Exercise, which maintains physical fitness, also ensures mental alertness. 3(c)  Exercise, besides maintaining physical fitness, ensures mental alertness.

4(a)  The development of new languages out of old ones is illustrated by the emergence of French from Latin. 4(b)  New languages developing out of old ones are illustrated by the emergence of French from Latin. 4(c)  The fact that new languages develop out of old ones is illustrated by the emergence of French from Latin.

5(a)  Whereas some insects use clever concealment devices to escape predators, others are able to move very quickly. 5(b)  Unlike those insects that use clever concealment devices to escape predators, others are able to move very quickly.


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