Chapter 7: Transition Words

Writing > Transition Words

Transition words and phrases are vital devices for essays, papers or other literary compositions. They improve the connections and transitions between sentences and paragraphs. They thus give the text a logical organization and structure.

All English transition words and phrases (sometimes also called “conjunctive adverbs,” “connectives,” “connectors,” and "devices") do the same work as coordinating conjunctions: they connect two words, phrases or clauses together and thus the text is easier to read and the coherence is improved. A paragraph is “coherent” when the reader can move easily from one sentence to the next and read the paragraph as an integrated whole, rather than a series of separate sentences.

Usage: transition words and phrases are used with a special rule for punctuation: a semicolon or a period is used after the first 'sentence,' and a comma is almost always used to set off the transition word from the second 'sentence.' Use a semicolon to connect sentences only if the group of words on either side of the semicolon are a complete sentence each (both must have a subject and a verb and could thus stand alone as a complete thought).

Example #1 (recommended for beginners and those people that wish to ensure their error count is low):

“People use 43 muscles when they frown. However, they use only 28 muscles when they smile.”

Example #2 (only recommended for advanced learners):

“People use 43 muscles when they frown; however, they use only 28 muscles when they smile.”

Below, you will find a structured table of commonly used English transition words can be used to find the right expression. English transition words and phrases are essential, since they not only connect ideas, but also can introduce a certain shift, contrast or opposition, emphasis or agreement, purpose, result or conclusion, etc. in the line of argument.

The transition words and phrases have been assigned only once to somewhat artificial categories, although some words belong to more than one category.

To improve your writing, it is essential to understand how transition words can be used to combine ideas in writing. It is also fundamental to be aware of the sometimes subtle meaning of transition words within the English language.

The following table is a list of commonly used transition words. You may wish to place a sticky note or bookmark on this table for quick reference:

Table: Commonly Used Transition Words [Quick Reference]

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