English Composition 1
Transitional Words and Phrases
The prefix "trans" indicates movement from one place to another. When we translate, for instance, we take words from one language to another. When we apply the word "transition" to our lives, such as the transition from being a high school student to being a college student, we are referring to our movement from one situation to another. Transitions in writing do the same thing: they take the writer and the reader from one place to another. They also indicate the logical relationship between where we have been and where we are going. Transitional words and phrases are like sign posts that help lead readers through an essay.
The simplest transitions are coordinating conjunctions, also known as the "FAN BOYS" words: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. These common words help us connect not only our words but our ideas. For example, when you use the word "so," you are saying, "here's something that we can conclude from what I just said." When you use "or," you are saying, "here's another possibility." The most commonly used coordinating conjunction, "and," is also the weakest in terms of the meaning it conveys, indicating only that "here's something else." Coordinating conjunction do act as transitions, but they are not enough to give an essay a strong sense of cohesion.
Because transitional words and phrases show logical relationships between sentences and ideas, they are often organized according to the kinds of relationships that they convey, as they are below. Below are some common transitional words and phrases that can help you demonstrate logical relationships between sentences and ideas in your writing.
Common Transitional Words and Phrases
- To give examples: for example, for instance, such as, specifically
- To show cause and effect: therefore, hence, thus, as a result, resulting in, so, consequently
- To contrast: nevertheless, however, but, on the other hand, in contrast, on the contrary, conversely, at the same time, still, although, even though, despite, in spite of
- To show similarity: likewise, similarly, just as, equally
- To concede: although, even though, of course, granted, while
- To elaborate: in addition, additionally, moreover, also, furthermore
- To emphasize: more importantly, most importantly, chiefly, indeed, in fact, primarily, no doubt
- To restate: again, in other words, in effect, that is, in short
- To indicate time: last, at last, eventually, before, after, afterwards, finally, during, then, when, as
- To indicate place: to the right, to the left, in the background, in the foreground, in the distance
- To conclude: thus, finally, in the end
The Difference Transitions Can Make
You might be surprised by how much the effective use of transitional words and phrases can strengthen your writing. Transitions can act as "glue" that helps holds your ideas and your sentences together, and they can help take you and your readers smoothly and logically from one part of your essay to the next.
- Original Sentence: Succeeding in college often is a challenge for students. Most colleges
provide services designed to help students. They include peer tutoring and
personal counseling. Colleges need to provide more services to help students
- Revised with transitions: Succeeding in college often is a challenge for students. Therefore, most colleges provide services designed to help students, such as peer tutoring and personal counseling. However, colleges need to do more to help students succeed.
The addition of just a few transitional words in the passage above helps the writer indicate how the different parts of the passage are logically related and strengthens the "flow" of the sentences.
Three Problems to Avoid
Transitional words and phrases help strengthen writing, but they can be misused. Below are three things to be wary of as you bring transitional words and phrases into your essays.
- Make sure the logical connections are clear as you use transitions.
Because transitions indicate relationships between words and ideas, they can be misused if the relationship indicated by the transitional words is unclear or does not exist.
Example: George's wife stands at the window and looks out at the rain falling on the empty streets. For example, she sees a cat huddled under a table in the rain. ("For example" does not make sense here because the woman seeing the cat is not a clear "example" of anything in the first sentence.)
Example: George's wife decides to go out into the rain to get the cat. Consequently, George sits in bed reading his book. ("Consequently" does not make sense here because it is unclear how George sitting in bed reading is a consequence of the woman deciding to get the cat.)
- Avoid the overuse of transitions.
Transitions are supposed to guide readers through your writing, but overuse of transitional words and phrases can have the opposite effect and can make your writing confusing.
Example: Writing an essay can be challenging. However, there are techniques that can make the process a little easier. For example, taking plenty of notes on the subject can help the writer generate ideas. Therefore, note-taking is an important "pre-writing" strategy. In addition, some people "free-write," writing quickly for ten or twenty minutes to see what ideas arise. However, taking notes and free-writing are only the beginning. Ideas must eventually be organized in a logical way. Consequently, an outline can help the writer make sense of the rough material generated through the note-taking and free-writing process. Therefore, writing an outline is another important step in the writing process. However, some writers are able to conceptualize a sense of logical order for their ideas without actually writing an outline. Nevertheless, these writers seem to have some kind of outline in their minds. In addition, an outline should help the writer formulate a thesis for the essay. Consequently, an outline can help give focus to the essay. (This passage could be stronger with fewer transitional words and phrases. Especially when the transitions are used at the beginnings of sentences, they can become annoying or even confusing to readers if they are overused.)
- Avoid errors that can occur with the use of transitions.
Just like any other words, transitional words and phrases must be used carefully so that they do not cause errors. Both sentence fragments and comma splices sometimes occur when transitional words are added to an essay. These two errors are illustrated below.
Sentence Fragment: Resulting in the woman's search for companionship elsewhere.
Corrected Sentence: George seems to ignore his wife, resulting in the woman's search for companionship elsewhere.
Comma splice: The woman sees the cat out in the rain, however the cat is gone by the time the woman goes outside.You can avoid these problems if you are particularly aware of the possibility of sentence fragments and comma splices occurring with the use of transitions.
Corrected Sentence: The woman sees the cat out in the rain; however, the cat is gone by the time the woman goes outside.
Corrected Sentence: The woman sees the cat out in the rain. However, the cat is gone by the time the woman goes outside.