Grammar: Transitional Words and Phrases

Posted November 30, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Challenges, Editing, Self-Editing, Writing

A transitional phrase is commonly used to connect from one paragraph to the next, to create a smooth flow of the storyline. Sometimes, a writer gets so absorbed in their storyline or topic and they leap into another idea or action that leaves the reader wondering what the heck? As a consequence, it will definitely downgrade you in my review!

Of course, that downgrade may be alleviated by your truly excellent writing, although stumbling over errors does tend to sharpen my critical thought process, making me more aware of other issues. Nor am I the only one who notices this sort of thing, so it is a good idea to keep an eye on your flow.

When you do go back and re-read your story (so far), keep in mind that the reader has no idea what’s to come. They have no idea what your future plans are. They may not remember what you’ve already told them! Your reader needs to know how your characters got to where the story is now…while keeping your plans for those red herrings in mind.

As for using and or but to begin a sentence, for years we’ve been told that using a coordinating conjunction this way will cause the end of the universe as we know it. In most cases, yes, using a conjunction such as and or but to initiate the next sentence should be avoided as it is usually used to connect two thoughts in one sentence. But, using this small word can grab your reader’s attention, ahem *with a grin*.

And do keep in mind that using any of these transitional elements must be natural.

Do You Need Help With Transitions?

Trust me. Everyone has to work at transitions. If your writer’s group is saying they had trouble following the storyline or the organization of your paper, that is a good indicator you need to take another look. When they use words like choppy, jumpy, abrupt, how is this related?, etc., these are more clues that you need to re-examine your transitions.

An exhaustive list is available courtesy of John Dowell at Michigan State University and Gregory M. Campbell.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle?

If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page. And consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Transitional
Credit to: The Writing Center; Michigan State University; Grammar Monster; David A. McMurrey, Clark College
Part of Speech: Adverb, Conjunction, Preposition, Pronoun
Definition: Words or phrases that link ideas and help the reader connect one idea to the next. They can show relationships within a paragraph or sentence and/or between the main idea and link with the support the author provides for those ideas.

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Transitional Phrase
Definition: Consider transitional words as a phrase whether it’s a single word or a group of words.

Comma Usage: A transitional phrase is followed by a comma, but never preceded by a comma. Unless, it is a coordinate conjunction that is preceded by a comma when used to join two complete sentences.

Positioning: A transitional phrase sits at the start of a sentence and acts like a bridge to an idea in the previous sentence. The common transitions are as a result, consequently, however, and therefore. Coordinate conjunctions that join two independent clauses are found in the middle, so to speak.

[Almost] All the Examples
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the transitional phrase with its punctuation
  2. Blue indicates the transitional coordinate conjunction

In summary, 70% of you will fail the course.

Consequently, I cannot tolerate sloppy work.

Bruce Leonard spent four years in Japan studying Kung Fu. As a result, he is often able to predict moves by Japanese opponents.

Mark was separated from his twin sister when they were both one. Of course, it was often said that the girl next door looked a little like him, but no one had any reason to think they might be related.

However, Bruce was unaware that the shark was only making its first pass.

Just one vote can make a difference. Again, a single vote can determine the future. Vote!

The volunteers have many duties. They answer phones and set up appointments. In addition, they organize thank-you bags for clients.

Smog can devastate a cityscape; furthermore, studies show it can aggravate asthma and other medical conditions.

During midterms and finals, Student Writing Support gets especially busy, and it is not uncommon for students to wait for over an hour to see a consultant.

After the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, the movement to protect LGBT civil rights in New York and around the nation became both more visible and more powerful.

Interracial couples have long faced racism in American culture. For example, as recently as 1967, interracial marriage was illegal in seventeen states.

I am working on becoming healthier; specifically, I now go to the gym daily.

I love my dog, but I hate it when he eats the roll of toilet paper.

The more my dog misbehaves, the less likely I am to leave him home alone.

While I do enjoy cooking as a hobby, I will not prepare all the food for your wedding.

Just as athletes go through training drills in order to be agile on the field, so do musicians practice scales so that they can perform with ease.

Not only am I taking a full course load, but I also have a job that keeps me busy.

Consensus was arrived at by all of the members exclusive of those who could not vote.

University of Minnesota.

Use Caution With Some Transitive Words
However Rule: When using however as a transitional phrase or an adverb, do not use a comma, lest you create a run-on sentence. However, you can use a semicolon before it.

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YES (as a Transitional Phrase) NO
I don’t like cake. However, I love scones.

I don’t like cake; however, I love scones.

I don’t like cake, however, I love scones.
Hereby,
Herewith,
Therewith
Rule: These three words are not in common use and are prone to misuse. They are most common in legal documents and tend to sound archaic in any other context.
Transitional Words
CAUTION: Care must be taken to thoroughly understand the transitional word and how it is used to ensure the easiest understanding, as these words all have different meanings, nuances, and connotations. That’s not to say that a word in one subcategory can’t be found in another.

Transitional words can be divided into general categories that help writers speed up finding the right word to use.

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Additive, which includes:

  • Addition, Clarification (includes Parallelism and Repetitive), Identification, Introduction, and Reference

Adversative

  • Alternative, Compare-and-Contrast, Concession, Conflict, Dismissal, Emphasis, Exception, Illustration (Example), Qualification, and Replacement

Causal

  • Cause-and-Effect, Condition, Consequence, and Purpose

Sequential

  • Conclusion, Continuation, Digression, Narration, Numerical, Place, Pronouns, Resumption, Summary, and Time
Additive Definition: Adds or introduces information, shows similarity to other ideas, further clarifies ideas, etc.

The additive category can be further divided into:

Addition
Clarification
Identification
Introduction
Reference

NOTE: Pay attention to when those transitional words must be followed by a comma.

Addition Definition: Tells the reader that the writer is presenting two, three or more ideas in a list of items. It may be an idea that has appeared first to which more ideas are added, or it adds additional ideas to an idea(s) the writer has already mentioned. It could also be a notification or attachment of information.

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List of Conjunctive Adverbs
actually
addition
additionally
again
also
alternatively
and
and then
as a matter of fact
as well
as well as this
besides
besides this
either
equally
equally important
even more
finally
first
further
furthermore
important
in addition
in addition to this
in fact
in the first / second / third place
in all honesty
indeed
in the first / second / ++ place
last
lastly
let alone
moreover
much less
neither
next
nor
not only
not only this, but that as well
not to mention
not to mention this
on the other hand
or
second
secondly
still
to say nothing of
to tell the truth
too
what is more
+++
Clarification Definition: To make the connection clear, spell it out.

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i.e.
in other words
put another way
that is
that is to say
to clarify
to explain
to put it another way
to rephrase it
Parallelism Definition: A type of repetition, it is the deliberate repetition of phrases, clauses, or whole sentences (Capital Community College Foundation).
More information can be found at “Parallel Construction“.

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Examples:
NO YES
The French, the Italians, Spanish, and Portuguese… The French, the Italians, the Spanish, and the Portuguese…
In spring, summer, or in winter In spring, summer, or winter

In spring, in summer, or in winter

Repetitive
Reiterative
Definition: To ensure clarity or to aid coherence, an idea is restated or repeated using other, perhaps more familiar, words. Being repetitive with key words or phrases can connect sentences and paragraphs.

While we have been cautioned about repeating words too often, there are times when it helps readers remember — think of it as a motif for your story.

A.k.a., elaborative, restatement, repetition

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in other words
in short
stated simply
that is
to put it another way
Example:
You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
Identification Definition: Identifies the idea.

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namely
specifically
that is
that is to say
thus
Introduction Definition: Introduces the idea.

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as
as an illustration
by way of example
especially
for example
for instance
for one thing
in particular
including
like
notably
particularly
such as
to illustrate
Reference Definition: Refers to the idea.

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as for
as for this
considering
considering this
concerning
concerning this
on the subject of
on the subject of this
regarding
regarding this
speaking about
speaking about this
the fact that
with regards to
with regards to this
Adversative Definition: Signals conflict, contradiction, concession, dismissal, emphasis, etc.

Its various subcategories include:

Alternative
Compare-and-Contrast
Concession
Conflict
Contradiction
Dismissal
Emphasis
Exception
Illustrative, Exemplification
Qualification
Replacement
Alternative Definition: Two ideas can act as alternatives or substitutes for each other.

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either
however
neither
nor
on the other hand
or
otherwise
Compare-and-Contrast Definition: Two ideas that can be compared to show similarities (compare) or differences (contrast).
Comparison Definition: Connects to similar or comparable ideas.

A.k.a., similarity, comparative

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also
by the same token
equally
in a like manner
in the same way
likewise
similarly
Contrast A.k.a., contrastive

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after all
although
and yet
as opposed to
at the same time
but
but at the same time
despite that
even so
even though
for all that
however
in contrast
in spite of
instead
nevertheless
nonetheless
notwithstanding
on the contrary
on the other hand
otherwise
regardless
still
than
though
unlike
yet
Concession Definition: Acknowledges the idea.

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admittedly
albeit
although
and still
and yet
be that as it may
but even so
despite
despite this
even though
granted
granted this
however
in spite of
in spite of this
naturally
nevertheless
nonetheless
notwithstanding
notwithstanding this
of course
of course, it is true
on the other hand
regardless
regardless of this
still
though
to be sure
yet
Conflict Definition: Explores (or exposes) the conflicting or contradictory ideas.

A.k.a., contradiction

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and yet
but
by way of contrast
conversely
granted
however
in contrast
of course, it is true
on the other hand
still
though
when in fact
whereas
while
yet
Dismissal Definition: Dismiss the idea.

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all the same
at any rate
either way
in any case
in any event
in either case
in either event
whatever happens
whichever happens
Emphasis Definition: Place emphasis on the idea.

A.k.a., intensification

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above all
besides
by all means
certainly
doubtedly
even more
indeed
in fact
more importantly
no
of course
surely
to repeat
undoubtedly
without doubt
yes
Exception Definition: Indicates a topic that is not being addressed or is excluded.

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aside from
barring
beside
except
excepting
excluding
exclusive of
other than
outside of
save
Illustration or Exemplification Definition: Informs the reader that a specific, vivid examples for the purpose of adding more information to explain, persuade, define, or illustrate a general idea. It can provide solid support and strong evidence to prove the writer’s main statement as well as to stimulate the reader’s interest (Bucks County Community College).

A.k.a., example

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after all
as an illustration
e.g.
even
for example
for instance
in conclusion
indeed
in fact
in other words
in short
it is true
of course
namely
specifically
that is
thus
to demonstrate
to illustrate
truly
Qualification Definition: Qualify or add another point to the idea.

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almost
although
always
frequently
maybe
nearly
never
perhaps
probably
Replacement Definition: Indicates to the reader that something is being replaced or substituted.

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at least
or at least
or rather
rather
Causal Definition: Shows the cause, result, effect, consequence, etc. of another.

The causal category can be further divided into:

Cause-and-Effect
Condition
Consequence
Purpose
Cause-and-Effect Definition: Discusses the reasons why something may have happened and can serve as lesson-delivery or cautionary tale-type phrases.
Cause Definition: Signals a cause or reason

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as
because
being that
due to
for
for that reason
forasmuch as
in that
in view of
inasmuch as
on account of
owing to
seeing that
since
because of the fact
due to the fact that
for the reason that
for the simple reason that
in view of the fact
owing to the fact
Effect Definition: Creates the effect or results in response to the cause.

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accordingly
as a consequence
as a result
as a result of this
because
because of this
consequently
for this reason
hence
in consequence
so much that
so
so much so that
so that
therefore
thus
Condition Definition: Indicates that state of the topic whether it is its appearance, its quality, or its working order.

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as long as
even if
given that
granted that
granting that
if
in case
in the event that
on condition
on the condition that
only if
provided that
providing that
so long as
unless
Consequence Definition: Because of this idea, this idea occurs.

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if not
if so
in that case
otherwise
that being the case
then
under those circumstances
Purpose Definition: The purpose of this idea is…

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for fear that
for the purpose of
for this purpose
in order that
in order to
in the hope that
lest
so
so as to
so that
to that end
to the end that
to this end
with this in mind
with this intention
Sequential Definition: Signals a chronological or logical sequence to a logical argument.

The sequential category can be further divided into:

Conclusion
Continuation
Digression
Narration, a.k.a., Process
Numerical
Place

Pronoun
Resumption
Summary
Time
Conclusion Definition: Indicates an ending.

A.k.a., conclusive, concluding

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as a final point
at last
eventually
finally
in conclusion
in the end
lastly
to conclude
to conclude with
Continuation Definition: Indicates a a carrying on of the topic whether it’s over time or in the process.

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after
after this
afterwards
before
before this
eventually
next
previously
subsequently
then
Digression Definition: Indicates to the reader that the text is stepping away from the topic temporarily.

A.k.a., diversion

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by the way incidentally to change the topic
Narration Definition: Generally organized according to time, beginning with the first step in the story or process and proceeding in time until the last step in the process. It’s natural, then, that transition words indicate that one step has been completed and a new one will begin.

A.k.a., process, narrative

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after
after a while
after that
afterwards
almost
always
as
as soon as
at first
at last
at the end
before
before long
by this time
during
earlier
eventually
finally
formerly
frequently
however
immediately
in an instant
in the beginning
in the first place
initially
it began
it started
just then
last
lastly
late
later
later on
meanwhile
nearly
never
next
now
once
pretty soon
previously
right after
since
soon
soon after
subsequently
suddenly
the next step
the last step
the last thing
then
thereafter
until
when
after __ minutes
at the same time
in the meantime
when we finished
when we were done
whenever
while

after a few hours (days, months, years, etc.)

first (second, third, etc.)

firstly (secondly, thirdly, etc.)

the first (second, third, etc.) step

two hours (days, months, years) later

Numerical Definition: Serves as a signal to the reader as to which point is being made.

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first of all
firstly
secondly
thirdly
at first
for a start
in the first (second, third, etc.) place
initially
to begin with
to start with
Place Definition: Things referred to by one statement can have a spatial relationship to another thing referred to be another statement. The logic that connects these two statements may be spatial in nature, typically using prepositions.

A.k.a., direction, spatial, physical, location

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above
adjacent to
behind
below
beside
between
beyond
here
in
in back of
in front of
in the distance
inside
nearby
nearly
neighboring on
next to
on
on one side … on the other side
on top of
opposite
opposite to
outside
over
over there
the least important
the most important
there
to the left
to the right
under
wherever
Pronoun Definition: Serves as a link to clearly refer back to a specific word or phrase, an antecedent; although, you must be careful to ensure that readers will know to what the pronoun refers.

A.k.a., thought

Demonstrative Pronoun Definition: Indicates if something is near or far from the speaker/writer, has already been mentioned, or indicate the singular or plural.

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that this these
those
Possessive Pronoun Definition: A pronoun that indicates possession.

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her
his
it
its
our
their
theirs
your
yours
Resumption Definition: Signals the reader that the text is returning to a previous idea.

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at any rate
anyhow
anyway
to resume
to get back to the point
to return to the subject
Summary Definition: At key points in writing, particularly at the beginning of paragraphs or sections, you’ll see a phrase, sometimes accompanied by a pronoun, that summarizes the preceding discussion. In the same sentence, a statement will be made about that summary phrase — typically this phrase will kick off the upcoming discussion, and do so in a way that the reader sees the connection between what came before and what is coming next.
A.k.a., summation

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all in all
altogether
as has been said
as I have said
briefly
consequently
finally
hence
in a word
in all
in brief
in conclusion
in other words
in particular
in short
in simpler terms
in sum
in summary
on the whole
overall
so
that is
then
therefore
thus
to be brief
to put it briefly
to put it differently
to sum up
to summarize
as has been mentioned
as has been noted
as was previously stated
given these points
Review–Preview Definition: Summarizes the topic of the preceding chunk of information into a short phrase, then does the same thing for the upcoming chunk of information using the appropriate transitional word. Typically used between large chunks, e.g., between an 8-page section and a 12-page section that follows it. Think of that research paper you did in school!

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While Review–Preview is a transitional element, it relies more upon how the text or information is organized and presented, and yes, using the transitional words that have been listed in this post. There are a number of sequencing patterns you may choose to consider:

  1. General idea to more specific ideas
  2. Basic idea to more complex ideas
  3. Describing a stationary object, and then describing the object in motion
  4. Choosing a pattern of movement in describing something: from left to right; from inside to outside; or, from top to bottom
  5. Follow an event through time using a temporal sequence
  6. Concept of an idea to how it would be applied and/or giving examples of how it could be used
  7. Present data such as observations, experimental data, survey results, etc., and then move on to the conclusions that can be drawn from that data
    • Do the reverse: present the conclusion, then provide the data that supports it
  8. Present the problem, then provide the solution
    • Ask the question, then provide the answer
  9. Discuss an idea in its simplified form, and then discuss the technical details
  10. Start with the most important, dramatic, or eye-catching idea and progress to the least important
    • Do the reverse: Start with the least important and build up to the climax
  11. Begin with the most convincing argument and then move on to the less convincing one
    • Do the reverse: Start with the least convincing and build up to the most

Marylynne Diggs at Clark College has a useful post on “Writing Efficient Transitions“.

A.k.a., overview, power-level revision

Time Definition: Shows the reader when an idea relates, follows, precedes, or occurs simultaneously with another idea or matter already mentioned by the writer.

A.k.a., chronological, temporal, time sequence

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