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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

  1. To give examples: for example, for instance, such as, specifically

  2. To show cause and effect: therefore, hence, thus, as a result, resulting in, so, consequently

  3. To contrast: nevertheless, however, but, on the other hand, in contrast, on the contrary, conversely, at the same time, still, although, even though,
  4. despite, in spite of

  5. To show similarity: likewise, similarly, just as, equally

  6. To concede: although, even though, of course, granted, while

  7. To elaborate: in addition, additionally, moreover, also, furthermore

  8. To emphasize: more importantly, most importantly, chiefly, indeed, in fact, primarily, no doubt

  9. To restate: again, in other words, in effect, that is, in short

  10. To indicate time: last, at last, eventually, before, after, afterwards, finally, during, then, when, as

  11. To indicate place: to the right, to the left, in the background, in the foreground, in the distance

  12. 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.


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.

This page was last updated on Thursday, June 06, 2013. Copyright Randy Rambo, 2006.