How to Use Transition Words

Samantha Ruff
December 2, 2019 ·
7 min read

Transition words. You know, conjunctions? Connectors? Linkers! Whatever you call them, these words are integral to the English language. Otherwise, every story ever told would read something like this.

‘Yesterday I went skiing. It was cold. I wore a warm ski suit. I went to the top of the mountain. I fell over. I broke my leg. It was very cold. I was in a lot of pain. I started to lose consciousness. I was airlifted to safety by mountain rescue. I am recovering in hospital.’

Now, this story is actually full of drama, but it is told with absolutely no transition words, meaning that every sentence is incredibly short and dull, while it reads as if it were a child telling the tale. Now let’s look at the story again, this time using those all-important transition words:

‘Yesterday, despite the fact it was cold, I went skiing. Understandably, I wore a ski suit. I went to the top of the mountain, but I fell over and broke my leg. In addition to being very cold, I was in a lot of pain and as a result I started to lose consciousness. Fortunately, I was airlifted to safety be mountain rescue, and I am now recovering in hospital.’

Much better!

Why we use transition words

As can be seen from the example above, these transition words add flow and connection to the various ideas expressed in communication. Without them, we have a stunted collection of related sentences that should have been pieced together as something more interwoven.

It is possible for language to exist without transition words, that is clear. However, without them we would have something this is sometimes vague, never pleasant to hear, and often confusing. Transition words arrange our ideas, connect these ideas logically, and present the listener, or reader, with something that is easier to comprehend.

Remember, everything that we say or write should be delivered with the person receiving it in mind. Without transition words, you deliver something ugly, and something puzzling.

Types of transition words

Brace yourself, because there are many. But do not get overwhelmed, because to make sense of all these transition words, you must categorize them by their purpose. What is that transition word there to achieve?

Here are the most common types of transition words, including the most relevant examples of those words:

Conjunctions that link ideas

in addition
in spite of
in contrast
on the contrary
on the other hand
due to the fact
for this reason
as a result
To present an argumentTo summarizeTo give examplesTo clarify
of course
most importantly
sum up
in the end
for example
for instance
such as
to illustrate
to name but a few (examples)
that is to say
in other words

There are three important points to consider here:

1) This list is not exhaustive. There are other transition words that can be added here accordingly as you discover them. Always think, principally, what is the purpose of that transition word? Why does it exist? What is the relationship between the two ideas that it seems to connect?

2) The eagle-eyed among you will notice that some of these transition words feature in more than one category. A classic example is the word ‘while’. Consider these two examples:

“While John likes pizza, he wouldn’t dream of eating it every day.”

“John was eating pizza while watching the TV.”

Clearly these two examples express the meaning of ‘while’ in context. The first example is to show the contrast between John’s liking for pizza, and the frequency in which he eats it. The second example clearly defines the time relationship between these two actions. You will never confuse the intention of the transition word as long as you consider the idea as a whole.

3) Transition words that exist for the same reason cannot simply be interchanged without any consideration to grammar and sentence structure. When learning transition words, after understanding the intent of that word, you must then practice how those words must be used within the sentence. Consider these examples:

“John likes pizza but he doesn’t eat it every day.”

While John likes pizza, he doesn’t eat it every day.”

Despite liking pizza, John doesn’t eat it every day.”

“John likes pizza. However, he doesn’t eat it every day.”

All of the transition words here have the same intention – to express contrast between how much John likes pizza, and how frequently he eats it. However, grammatically, and in terms of their position in the sentence and what punctuation is used, they are all different. Some key considerations are:

·  In what position is the word used in the sentence (beginning, middle, etc.)?

·  Is the word used with a gerund (‘ing’ form) or with a clause (subject + verb)?

·  How many sentences are there? One, two, etc.?

·  What other punctuation is used (for example, commas)?

Once you have stablished the purpose of the transition word (as per the table above), and studied how to use it, you are free to begin using those transition words yourself. There is just one more consideration…


Often transition words are changed depending on how formal the speaker or writer wishes to be. Compare these sentences.

“I was hungry, so I ate.”

I was hungry. Thus, I ate.”

Clearly the use of ‘thus’ is much more formal, and old-fashioned, than the word ‘so’. Consider which transition word is suitable in context (some words are much more common when writing, for example), and this is the last piece of the jigsaw.

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