for my conlang, I am trying to think of how to do the subordinating conjunction 'as,' 'even,' 'while' (and related: 'even though,' etc.).

In the languages that I know well enough to use these words (English, Spanish, and Turkish), they are separate words. I wonder, do we know languages which use other constructions for 'as,' 'even,' 'while,' other than with a separate word linking two clauses?

Example: We ate as we ran.

I have covered quite a lot of grammar so far with systems of agglutinating clitics and affixes, so I'm trying to get my mind around how 'as,' 'even,' 'while,' could be handled without separate words. I guess I could just have like a "simultaneity clitic" for 'while' like I have a "conditional clitic" for 'would'...?

This has been difficult for me to conceptualize quietly in my head, so I really appreciate input and discussion :)

  • 1
    You mean along the lines of "we ate running"? Commented May 11, 2021 at 7:56
  • Hmm, that is interesting! So for "simple" simultaneous event verbs, an adjective might do the job?
    – Vir
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 17:49
  • 1
    From the point of view of a Slavic language speaker, it is English and (especially) Spanish that does without the conjunctions: comemos corriendo. In e.g. Slovak, you have to use the conjunction, while you can make a grammatical phrase using transgressive, it would be extremely stilted and archaic. Then again, Old Czech used imperfectum (heavily conjugated) quite extensively in subordinate roles (but not exclusively, thus just comment and not an answer) , as opposed to the "plain" aorist past tense. Commented May 12, 2021 at 7:23
  • I've looked up what are the transgressive and imperfectum and found examples for how sorts of conjugation can do this thing. Thank you!
    – Vir
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 14:08

2 Answers 2


In Inuit languages, there are no separate subordinating conjunctions. In Inuktitut, you identify the subordinate clause by an affix that indicates a conjunction.

For example, take the sentence "While Mary was eating, John was walking." In some Inuktitut dialects, you'd only indicate time tense for the superordinate phrase ("John was walking"), while the subordinate verb wouldn't have a tense marker, but instead use the conjunctive affix -tillu- (with the appropriate person marker)

Mary niri-tillugu John pisu-lauq-tuq (Mary eat-CONJ.3s John walk-Past-Part.3s)

It obviously gets a lot more complicated, but that gives one example of how to do it. If English had a similar setup, you might see something like this:

Mary eat John walked.

If, on the other hand, you wanted to relate them serially (Mary ate then John walked), you might see this sort of construction:

Mary ate John walked.

And you'd obviously reverse them for the other sequence, so "John walked Mary ate."

Obviously it would have to get more sophisticated, but you get the idea.

  • That's very interesting! I'll definitely play with it. Is there a source you recommend for reading about this? Naturally I can also look for myself.
    – Vir
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 17:51

What you describe reminds me of Latin enclitics -que 'and' and its less used counterpart -ve 'or', both attached to the first word of the subordinate clause (except prepositions). These are both co-ordinating conjunctions, not subordinating, but the basic idea could certainly be applied to any sort of conjunction.

ego domum ii tuque Romam iisti. 'I went home and you went to Rome.'

si ruber sive purpurus fias, mirer. 'If you should turn red or if you should turn purple, I would be surprised.'

It also makes me think of participial constructions, including the ablative absolute. These allow not only simultaneity, but also anteriority and posteriority to be expressed without any conjunction at all; although they can also be paired with a conjunctive adverb in the main clause (note tamen 'nevertheless' in the second example).

domum ambulans, bovem vidi. '(While I was) walking home, I saw a cow.'

urbe capta, rex tamen altus stabat. '(Although) his city (had been) captured, the king nevertheless stood tall.'

moriturus te saluto. 'I (who am) about to die salute you.'

As a bonus, there are also Old English correlative conjunctions. In OE, the same conjunction would often be repeated at the beginning of both clauses, with their relationship denoted by word order: the main clause usually took verb-second order, whereas the dependent clause usually took verb-final order.

þā hē hām cōm, þā wæs hē glæd. 'He was glad when he got home.' (lit. 'When he home came, then was he glad.')

You could conceivably do something similar while omitting the conjunction altogether.

  • Useful suggestions! Mr. Morrison pointed out that in Inuktitut "you'd only indicate time tense for the superordinate phrase ('John was walking'), while the subordinate verb wouldn't have a tense marker..." If not exactly the same (they mark for person), your point about participial constructions gives an accessible English example of the same thing. "Walking home [no tense], I saw a cow." Switching word order is a cool idea, too. As a side effect of how I do other relative clauses, the suboridnate clause already changes word order. I chose: As you ate, he ran. Nehoi nata, lehoi wewe.
    – Vir
    Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 16:45
  • @Vir The cool thing about participial constructions is that, while they don't display tense or absolute time, they usually do display aspect or relative time; i.e., time relative to the finite verb: Walking home, I saw a cow occurs alongside after walking home, ... and before walking home, ... You can play with absolute and relative time in all sorts of fun ways. // As an aside, I like how your language sounds.
    – Anonym
    Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 17:31
  • Thank you! In phonology, it's mostly based on Nahuatl. Nahuatl is my favorite-sounding language. The phonotactics are a little more custom. The sound is the most fun part for me: making up words is easier to any degree if it sounds good. Re relative time, yes! That 'as'/'while' are indicating simultanaeity, seems obvious now but I didn't grok if for quite a while, heh. Aspects were much easier for me to analyze than these subordinating conjunctions. Still, I would be interested to learn from a relative time sentence which my current grammar can't express.
    – Vir
    Commented Jun 28, 2021 at 19:15

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