Conjunctions, such as and, but, or, and so, can make a difference in the meaning of your sentence. Be sure to choose the right one.

Conjunctions are connecting words that express a relationship between two elements (words, clauses, or phrases). You tend to pay little attention to connectors, because you rarely choose the wrong one. But if you do, it’s noticeable; the reader will stumble on the awkwardness. Consider these sentences:

I have wanted to attend for a couple of years, and the dates never coincided with my schedule. (Should be but.)

The company has U.S. stores that have banned polystyrene cups but uses paper cups in those stores instead. (and.)

There have been just five pharmacy robberies this year, and drug addicts are turning to heroin, police said. (because.)

A recent Fast Company article said that Bernard Roth suggests in his book The Achievement Habit that people should change but to and in statements about their goals, because but limits a person’s consideration of the issue. According to Roth, “I really want to attend the conference, but I am too busy,” should be changed to “I really want to attend the conference, and I am too busy.” That way, you can focus separately on the two ideas and determine a way to achieve your goal.

That word change would alter your thinking, and therefore might be therapeutic, but the meaning of the two sentences differs. In the original sentence, but expresses a contrast between the desire to attend the conference and the lack of time, which is the way we normally think about that type of situation. By using and, you present the reader with two assertions of equal weight.

Readers want to breeze through your writing, grasping the meaning quickly, because ideas are clearly connected. Choosing the right conjunctions helps to ensure that the reader doesn’t pause unnecessarily to determine what you are saying.

Ken O’Quinn is a communications workshop leader who teaches business writing, corporate communications writing, and managerial communication. A former Associated Press writer, he is a co-author of “Focus on Them,” about leadership, and he is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business (McGraw-Hill), which is available at here at