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Common Transition Words

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In 1963, President John Kennedy gave a famous speech at American University. In the speech, Kennedy said the following lines:

'Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.'

Today's report is not about global problems. Nor is it about human destiny. Instead, it is about something much more exciting: transition words.

What are transitions?

Transitions are words that show relationships between ideas. According to grammar experts Susan Conrad and Douglas Biber, transitions are most common in academic writing.

These transition words have different uses. They can suggest that a result, clarification, or example is coming. We will now look at each of these uses in greater detail.

#1 Expressing a result

Transition words that show a result include therefore and thus.

The words you heard at the beginning of this report give you one example of therefore:

'Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man.'

In the quote, the word therefore connects two statements: 'Our problems are manmade' and 'they [our problems] can be solved by mankind.'

The word therefore suggests 'for that reason' or 'because of that...'

Thus has a similar meaning. Academic writers often use it as a way to show a summary or conclusion. You might read a paragraph that begins with the words 'Thus, we conclude that...'

In this case, the word thus is referring to ideas or arguments presented earlier in the written work.

In general, the writer is saying that the reasons already presented lead them to their conclusion.

#2 Restating or clarifying an idea

A second use of transitions is to restate or clarify ideas. Common examples include in other words and i.e.

Consider this example from a past Everyday Grammar program:

'Adverbials can appear at different places in a sentence. In other words, they are movable.'

In the example, the second sentence restates and clarifies the idea that comes in the first sentence. This added example helps to make the point more memorable and easier to understand.

I.e. can also restate or clarify an idea. Writers often use it in parenthetical statements or phrases.

The Everyday Grammar writer could have written the following words:

'Adverbials can appear at different places in a sentence (i.e. they are movable).

This sentence has a similar meaning to the first sentence, although it is different stylistically.

#3 Giving an example

A final group of transition words show that the writer is about to provide an example. Common words include for example and for instance.

Consider how President Ronald Reagan uses for example in his address to the United Nations in 1988:

'That is why when human rights progress is made, the United Nations grows stronger-and the United States is glad of it. Following a 2-year effort led by the United States, for example, the U.N. Human Rights Commission took a major step toward ending the double standards and cynicism that had characterized too much of its past.'

Reagan's second sentence, although lengthy, supports the point that he makes in the first sentence. This is a useful pattern to use both in writing and formal speaking.

Movability

The transitions we have discussed today can appear at different places in a sentence.*

This movability is important to understand for students of writing.

Think back to Reagan's speech. He used for example in the middle of his sentence.

'Following a 2-year effort led by the United States, for example, the U.N. Human Rights Commission took a major step toward ending the double standards and cynicism that had characterized too much of its past.'

Reagan could have used for example at another place in the sentence – the very beginning, for one.

Such a sentence would have sounded like this:

'For example, following a 2-year effort led by the United States, the U.N. Human Rights Commission took a major step toward ending the double standards and cynicism that had characterized too much of its past.'

Do not use transitions too often

Now that you have learned about transitions, you should practice using them.

However, do not use them too often. Your reader or listener might lose interest if you use too many transitions.

Also, you should be careful about using the transitions we have talked about today while speaking. They are polite and acceptable; however, they can make you sound very formal.

With time and practice, you will learn how and when to use transitions correctly.

And now, it is time for us to transition to the end of our report.

I'm John Russell.

And I'm Alice Bryant.

John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

* Transitions such as i.e. and e.g. are less movable because they often appear in parenthetical statements.

Words in the Story

transition – n. writing words or phrases that provide a connection between ideas, sentences and paragraphs.

academic – adj. of or relating to schools and education

restate – v. to say (something) again or in a different way especially to make the meaning clearer

adverbial – n. a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence and that is often used to show time, manner, place, or degree

double standard – n. a situation in which two people, groups, etc., are treated very differently from each other in a way that is unfair to one of them

cynicism – n. cynical beliefs: beliefs that people are generally selfish and dishonest

movability – n. capable of being moved

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