What Are Transition Words and How to Use Them?

Do you know the Brooklyn Bridge? Now, imagine the time before it was built—like before 1883.

Obviously I wasn’t there, but I can imagine that it was a struggle for someone to move across the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Well… you could still get across but not as conveniently as using the bridge—well, maybe they used boats or built small rafts. Not convenient, right?

Bottom line? They needed that bridge.

Likewise, if you want your writing to flow coherently and have the lucidity that makes it easily readable, you NEED transition words.

It’s that STRAIGHTFORWARD. 

what are transition words and how to use them

What Are Transition Words?

So what are these bridges? Transition words are words or phrases that connect sentences and paragraphs seamlessly and smoothen out any abrupt jumps or breaks between the sentences.

what are transition words
Like a bridge, a transition word or phrase can create links between your ideas and can help your reader understand your story.

These words include ‘since to demonstrate’, ‘specifically’, ‘for instance’, ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’, and many others. These words are deliberately inserted into the text to show the relationship between phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. They are like soft-footed tour guides for your readers, helping them grasp your thoughts and where your ideas lead to.

On a basic level, we usually use conjunctions (“and,” “but” and “or”) as transition words, for example:

  • They wanted to learn fast, and they completed the course with a quarter of the semester to spare.
  • They wanted to learn fast, but they barely finished one module after the first month.

You can see that in the examples I gave above, the coordinating conjunctions were employed to indicate two different transitions.

  • In the first case, “and” has been used to indicate a transition that connects two occurrences which were harmonized.
  • The second sentence employed the conjunction “but” to introduce a contrast.

Just as illustrated in these examples, there are different categories of transition words that we use to get a point across.

Adverb as Transition Words

Apart from the conjunctions, adverbs are also transition words.  Adverbs are words that describe the manner in which an action is performed or how two actions relate to each other.

These are examples of how we use them as transition words:

  • He did quite an excellent job. Nonetheless, the client seemed a bit dissatisfied with the work.
  • We don’t want another costly overseas trip; besides, we can’t afford it.

Can A Transition Be a Question?

Yes, but not necessarily.

Such a simple but somewhat confusing answer. It’s not a grammar rule but an observation that I have made.

As a rule of thumb (which I picked from a very good English tutor), I don’t put a comma after “but” when I use it instead of a conjunctive adverb (e.g., however, nevertheless).

So, if I start a sentence with a “but” and proceed with a question without “pausing”, it means that I have a transition that’s also a question.

For example:

Paragraph 1: The Corporation suddenly sold their stock in the rising company.

Paragraph 2: But how do you sell stock when the expectations are that the company is about to become more valuable?

Obviously my transition word, “but,” is not a question on its own, but the whole sentence is. Therefore, the sentence as a transition from paragraph “1” to “2” is a question.

But as I said, I’m yet to come across a general rule for this type of scenario.

What Are Some Examples of Transition Words?

There are just numerous examples of transition words. However, these words are used to perform different tasks—some are used to show turns and twists, others are employed to indicate similarity, etc.

what are some examples of transition words
9 Categories of transition words.

Basically, we have categories of transition words (based on the type of transition the words represent when they launch a sentence).

These are categories:

Cause/Effect

  • We lost. Therefore, we couldn’t proceed to the next round.
  • He left Because he was worried about the health of his mother.

Others:

since, on account of, for that reason, consequently, accordingly, thus, hence, as a result.

Comparison/Contrast

  • I’d have loved to go, but I have some urgent business here.
  • On the contrary, they believed that he was a fool.
  • Likewise, the driver of the white van left the boxes on his door.

Others:

Yet, and yet, nonetheless, at the same time, after all, In the same way, by the same token, in like manner, likewise, in similar, but, however, though, otherwise, on the contrary, in contrast, notwithstanding, nevertheless, similarly, on the other hand,

Examples

  • Specifically, Jane likes blue shoes.
  • To demonstrate its might, the empire wants to impose sanctions on its tiny neighbor.

Others:

for example, to illustrate, for instance, as an illustration, e.g. (for example).

Clarification

  • In other words, he wants you to go.
  • To put it another way, your company doesn’t need any more liabilities.

Others:

to clarify, to explain, that is to say, i.e. (that is), to rephrase it.

Qualification

  • This is possibly the best score in ten years.
  • With this in mind, the board declared him the best investment banker of that year.

Others:

Probably, always, nearly, never, maybe, frequently, perhaps, although.

Addition

  • Moreover, I wanted to go hiking with her friends.
  • Furthermore, the higher you go, the harder it becomes to climb down.

Others:

in addition, even more, too, also, last, lastly, finally, in the second place, again, next, further, besides, and, or, nor, first, second, secondly.

Summary/Conclusion

  • Given these points, it is very apparent that she is knowledgeable about what is going on.
  • In the long run, everyone will earn huge dividends from their investment.

Others:

In conclusion, to sum up, to summarize, in sum, in brief, in short, in summary, to conclude, finally.

Chronology/Time

  • He wrote her a note Before left for Italy.
  • During the event, you could hear them chant war cries.
  • Later that evening, he arrived with a big entourage.

Others:

While, now, immediately, following, never, after, earlier, always, when, whenever, meanwhile, soon, sometimes, afterwards, until now, next, once, then, at length, simultaneously, so far, this time, subsequently, in the meantime.

Emphasis

You have to have a hard-working attitude and self-belief. Above all, you have to put all your trust in God.

Others:

Above all, most importantly, certainly.

When to Use a Transition Word

when to use a transition word
If you add transition phrases or words to connect parts of the same sentence or start a new paragraph, your writing reads more smoothly and the relationship among the ideas described becomes clearer.

To Glue a Single Sentence

Transition words are used to link parts of the same sentence.

Here are some examples:

  • The boss acts as if the employees are just little kids under his supervision.
  • He prefers to go by himself rather than send someone else in his place.
  • The company did not adopt his proposed marketing strategy, yet if they had savvy executives, they would have realized how innovative and profitable his plans were.

To Start a Paragraph

Before choosing a transition word or phrase, always think about the cohesiveness—between the current paragraph and the one that precedes it—the transition will bring. Are the two paragraphs carrying comparing and contrasting ideas? Are you trying to describe events in chronological order?

When we use transitions to introduce a new paragraph, they are usually phrases or clauses which refer to the preceding paragraph while launching a new idea.

The transitions that we often used at the beginning of new paragraphs may be phrases like these:

  • It follows logically that entity A and B cannot be clearly distinguished by dead reckoning.
  • Furthermore, the gentleman has confessed his crime and has named his accomplices.
  • In conclusion, the theory does hold in reality.
  • Lastly, an investigation needs to be launched to find out what really happened here.

Coherence is what your transitions are there to help you with. Therefore, you ought to place a great emphasis on the gluiness of your transitions.

Gluing Paragraphs

Inside your paragraph, transitions have to help you explain the relationships between your ideas. You have to think about what the previous sentence before this one says and how that sentence or phrase relates to the one the transition is trying to introduce.

Do you want to add more information to the preceding sentence? Or, do you want to emphasize the subject succeeding the transition?

When we use transitional words to stitch a paragraph, we often try to make it flow smoothly. In the next example, I have used transition words to stitch together a short paragraph.

A Paragraph Without Transitions: He left his job in Louisiana. His mother was ill. She recovered, he went back to Louisiana.

A Paragraph with Transitions: He left his job in Louisiana because his mother was ill. After she’d recovered, he went back to Louisiana. But, he no longer had a job and had to start from scratch again.

Do Transitions Help in Writing a Story?

Not only do transitions help in writing a story, but they also help you quickly and easily improve your writing. There are plenty of benefits of using transitions.

Firstly, using transitions is a good way of programming yourself to transcend the subaltern practice of using a basic subject-verb sentence structure. With transitions, you have sentences which are more complex but still coherent.

Besides adding to the complexity of your sentences, the stitching factor that transitions bring to your text makes it readable and helps you create passages with a bit more refinement.

Finally, perfectly employed transitions can make your writing sound more professional. Professional writers know that there should be a noticeable difference between written and spoken language (unless it’s dialogue). Transitions give your writing a tinge of that much-needed professionalism, just enough to make it sound better than spoken English.

Signs That You Need to Work On Your Transitions

There are a couple of red flags that pop up whilst writing or when you’re provided with feedback. Here are some of the scenarios that require you to work on your transitions:

  • When you submit a manuscript or an academic assignment and you’re bombarded with comments like “this is choppy,” “it’s jumpy,” “the passages aren’t flowing smoothly,” “your writing desperately needs signposts,” or “how are paragraph X and Y related?”
  • When you get feedback from your readers, saying they are having a tough time following the structure and flow of your content.
  • When you take separate, disjointed chunks of texts and stitch them together without adding adhesive words or phrases.
  • When you are working on a group assignment and the draft includes parts written individually by several group members.

How Can I Improve My Use of Transition Words

The fact that everyone uses transition words is quite apparent. But, using them correctly or efficiently isn’t something which every writer does naturally. Using transition words effectively is a result of a couple of things. To successfully use transitions, you have to:

1. Arrange Your Thoughts and Ideas

Remember what I said about transition words acting like bridges linking your paragraphs and sentences together? Well, they are more than that.

They’re also signposts. Before writing a blog post, news article, or a book, one usually has a bunch of incoherent but lucid ideas to work with. Usually, you—the writer—know where your story is going but you need to give the reader some directions.

They have to understand and follow your arguments and you have to clearly define the relationships between different sentences or parts of writing.

Your writing needs to have a firm structure and it’s the effective use of transition words that will help you give the text that structure.

But first, you need to know how your ideas relate to each other. It needs to be clear to you which idea introduces the other, which breaks away from the original points, and so on and so forth. This means that you have an introduction, body, and conclusion.

Afterwards, you can start adding meat to the skeleton, sew the sentences together. Find jumps and breaks that present perfect slots for transitions and make sure the transitions employed make sense.

2. Know the Transition Words

This is usually a problem for non-native speakers. But, many native speakers tend to “underutilize” transition words; they simply don’t pay attention to some less frequently used transitions.

So, whether you’re a native speaker or not, it’s prudent to look up a list of transition words and study their employment. It’s not only a matter of having used the transition word before, sometimes, their usage may depend on context like the “i.e.” vs “e.g.” case which is a grammatical evil that has preyed on a lot of unsuspecting native speakers.

Knowing the words helps you contextualize the transitions.

This video made an extensive list of Transition Words and Phrases in English.

My Final Words On Transitions

Transition words are essential for the readability of your writing. Unfortunately, a lot of people fail to utilize them effectively. If you are one of these people, don’t worry about it too much. Study them and practice a lot.

Like a lot, A LOT. Always be aware of the way you structure your text. In this way, it will be less of a task trying to choose the best transitions to use.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.