Transitional Words and Phrases

Transitional words and phrases show the relationships between the parts of a sentence, between the sentences in a paragraph, or between the paragraphs in a longer piece of writing (i.e., an essay, short story, novel, magazine article, etcetera). Although transitional words and phrases mean little by themselves, they are very important in linking your ideas together smoothly and logically so that your paragraphs have coherence. Transitional words and phrases can be divided into categories according to the kind of relationship you as a writer are trying to show. There are eight (8) basic categories you must learn:

  1. To Show Time. after, afterward, always, as soon as, at last, at once, briefly, eventually, finally, immediately, in the meantime, in the past (or future), last, later, meanwhile, next, never, now, often, once, promptly, sometimes, soon.
  2. To Show Place. above, among, around, at this point, behind, below, beside, beyond, down, forward, from, here, in front of, inside, nearby, next to, on, on the other side, opposite, over, through.
  3. To Add An Idea. again, also, and, as well as, besides, for one thing, further, furthermore, in addition to, last, likewise, more, moreover, next, similarly, too.
  4. To Illustrate or Explain an Idea. for example, for instance, in other words, in particular, namely, specifically, such as, that is, thus, to illustrate.
  5. To Compare or Contrast Ideas. but, even so, conversely, differently, however, in contrast, in spite of, in the same way, nevertheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, still,yet.
  6. To Show a Result. accordingly, as a result, consequently, for that reason, hence, then, therefore, thus.
  7. To Empasize an Idea. above all, especially, indeed, in fact, most important.
  8. To Summarize an Idea. as has been noted, finally, in brief, in other words, in short, on the whole, to sum up.

These are not all of the transitional words and phrases in the English language that we use, but they represent a good sampling of those most often employed in writing. Remember that transitions are like bridges -- they link one thing with another. They can be used to go forward (on to the next sentence or paragraph) or to go backward (to refer to something that has just been stated). The following is a brief listing of commonly used transitional words and phrases one finds in daily speech:

and before nevertheless accordingly
or otherwise unfortunately but
when however recently for
after therefore although for example
so consequently at last in conclusion

The student writer who masters the usage of transitional words and phrases is well on the way to achieving coherence (a smooth flow in the writing that is logical and easy to follow) in one's writing. Keep in mind that your paragraphs can be unified (stick to the topic sentence and the thesis statement) yet still lack coherence (sounding mechanical and stiff).

Coherence is achieved when the sentences in your paragraphs are arranged in an order that makes your ideas clear and sensible to the reader; the relationship among the sences and paragraphs is logical; and your ideas flow smoothly from one sentence and paragraph to the next. As one of the devices to achieve coherence, transitional words and phrases are a most important writing tool. With reference to using transitions effectively in writing (and also as a guide to reading with comprehension and critically), there are some authors (i.e., Langan, Donnelly, Neeld, et al) who refer to transitions as signal words. Do not let terminology fool you as the intent is the same -- no matter what you refer to these as, it is absolutely essential to master transitions if one is to become a good writer.

Courtesy of Paragraphs (Roloff & Brosseit, 1979)

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