Think back to when you were first taught how to write essays. You were probably taught to organize your writing by starting each paragraph with a word like first, additionally, further, secondly, or third. These words are transition words.
Not all transition words are individual words. Sometimes, you need a whole phrase to make a smooth transition in your writing. These phrases are known as transition phrases. One transition phrase you were probably taught in school is in conclusion, a common way to begin an essay’s final paragraph. As you moved further in your academic career, you were probably taught to move away from these transition phrases and use subtler ones in your writing.
Read on to learn all about the best transition words and phrases and when to use them, as well as common pitfalls you might encounter when incorporating transitions into your writing.
What are transition words?
Transition words are words that help writing move smoothly from one topic to another without confusing the reader. Words like however, next, or in conclusion prepare the reader by signaling that the topic is shifting. Transition words can introduce new or contrasting ideas, show cause-and-effect relationships, and form other connections between different sentences.
When to use transition words
Transition words illustrate relationships between other words and phrases. Although students are generally taught to use transition words at the beginning of sentences, this isn’t the only place they’re used.
Generally, a transition word is the crux of its sentence. This is the decisive point where the sentence’s core message is communicated. Not every sentence contains a transition word, but when one does, the transition word is usually critical to its question or statement.
Types of transition words
Transition words present the writer’s thoughts in an orderly fashion, express nuance, clarify vagueness, forge connections, and demonstrate comparisons. Because they do so many different jobs, transition words are divided into eight distinct categories.
Transition words that introduce, agree, and add on
One of the most common ways transition words are used is to introduce new ideas and add onto topics that have already been explored in the piece.
Transition words and phrases in this category include:
- coupled with
- in addition (to)
- equally important
Take a look at a few ways you can use these kinds of transition words in a sentence:
- We have to consider the students’ needs, but the staff’s needs are equally important.
- First, preheat the oven. Second, sift together all your dry ingredients.
- The weather, coupled with the fast and loose itinerary, is the reason why I’m skipping the trip.
Transition words that oppose and limit
Transition words can also communicate opposition or limits to ideas and phrases. These words’ role is largely the opposite of the role played by the category above. Transition words that create opposition and limits include:
- as much as
- on the contrary
- on the other hand
- above all
Here are a few examples:
- We managed to have a decent harvest despite the drought.
- I went to the seminar expecting a long, boring presentation but on the contrary, it was engaging and a lot of fun!
- While Shekani is a stickler for tradition, Mei gives every holiday party a new twist.
Cause and conditional transition words
These transition words show how one action led to a specific effect or how one circumstance is conditional on another. This category also includes words and transition phrases that illustrate the relationship between an intention and an action.
Cause and conditional transition words include:
- due to
- in the event of
- for fear of
- because of
- as long as
- I hope that
- in case
- so that
A few examples of these words in sentences include:
- As long as there are pets that need homes, I’ll keep volunteering at the shelter.
- I brought extra socks in case we have to walk through puddles.
Effect and result transition words
Similar to the category above, these transition words demonstrate the result of a specific action. Here’s the difference between the two: When your sentence is focused on the cause of the effect, you’d use one of the transition words from the “Cause and conditional” category above. When the emphasis is on the effect itself, you would use a word from this “Effect and result” category that fits with the rest of your sentence.
For example, you might announce that you’ve postponed your barbecue by sending a group message that says “because of the weather, I postponed the barbecue.” But you can communicate the same message with a slightly different focus by phrasing it as “it’s raining, so consequently I’ve rescheduled the barbecue.”
Words and phrases in this category include:
- in effect
- as a result
- because the
- under those circumstances
A few more examples of sentences that include these transition words are:
- It’s very humid outside, hence the condensation on the window.
- We stayed to see the whole show and consequently missed our train home.
- Miguel forgot to add the yeast to his dough and as a result, the bread didn’t rise.
Transition words that describe examples and support
Other transition words make it clear that one concept supports another, either by providing evidence, emphasizing it, or simply being an example. These words include:
- for this reason
- in general
- to clarify
- in fact
- by all means
- in other words
Here are a few examples of these transition words at work:
- They had to slow down production, particularly of items with a low profit margin.
- I love all kinds of pizza, especially stuffed-crust pizza.
- The sequel’s tone was markedly different from the first movie’s.
Conclusion and summary transition words
These are the transition words that bring paragraphs, arguments, and pieces of writing to a close. They can also be used to summarize and restate ideas. These transition phrases and words include:
- in summary
- in conclusion
- to conclude
- in any event
- in either case
- in essence
- to summarize
- to sum up
Take a look at a few ways these words work in sentences:
- There were some surprises, but overall we had a great time.
- In conclusion, an upgraded security system isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.
Transition words for describing time
Another category of transition words deals with time, specifically when something happened or will happen in relation to another event. These words include:
- in the meantime
- in a moment
- at the present time
- all of a sudden
- every so often
Take a look at these transition phrases and words in action:
- I was walking through the mall when all of a sudden, I recognized my long-lost sister standing in line to buy a pretzel.
- I’d love to hang out at the coffee shop after work.
- Don’t leave the lobby—we’ll be with you momentarily.
Transition words for locations
Transition words can also draw a reader’s attention to where something is located, or the physical or spatial relationship between two things. This can mean where someone or something is literally located, or they can be used figuratively, like “Dan’s auto body shop is above Rick’s when it comes to quality and attention to detail.”
These words and phrases include:
- in front of
- next to
- adjacent to
You’ll notice that many of these words can also function as prepositions in a sentence. They can also function as transition words that are part of adverbial clauses. Here are a few examples of this kind of transition word at work:
- In the back, my cousin was grilling hamburgers.
- Among the students surveyed, more than half were excited to return to campus full-time.
- Next to the garage, they found a parking spot.
Common mistakes writers make with transition words
Working with transition words isn’t always easy. Sometimes, especially when English isn’t your primary language, you may accidentally use the wrong word for the type of transition you’re making or use a word that doesn’t have quite the right connotation for your message. For example, you might say something like, “We could go out for burgers, pizza, sushi, or tacos. In either case, that works for me.” Either implies that there are only two choices, so in this scenario, it doesn’t fit because there are a total of four choices. (Here, the best way to phrase this would be “in any case.”)
Here are a few other commonly mistaken transition words:
- As well as when you mean and. Using “as well as,” a synonym for “in addition to,” implies that the following piece of information is less important than the preceding piece, whereas “and” implies they are equally important.
- Adam and Jeremy came over for dinner.
- I made ribs and mac and cheese as well as a bagged salad.
- Essentially when you mean explicitly. “Essentially” refers to a fundamental factor or truth at a subject’s core, whereas “explicitly” communicates that something is literal and clear, with no room for misinterpretation.
- Although they offer personal training and classes, that gym is essentially an overpriced equipment store.
- The gym’s website explicitly states that no guest passes will be issued until further notice.
Another mistake writers sometimes make with transition words is using them in inappropriate contexts. As you saw in the lists above, some transition words and phrases feel more formal and academic than others. You can make your writing feel too formal—or too casual—by choosing a transition word that doesn’t fit your tone or the type of writing you’re doing. Here are a few examples of transition words that don’t fit their sentences:
- I just picked up a new dress, got my makeup done, and therefore, I’m ready to hit the club.
- In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Edna Pontillier felt inadequate whenever she spent time with Adele Ratignolle.
- I’ll be out of the office on Wednesday and consequently won’t be responding to emails.
See how they’re all either too formal or too casual for the messages they’re communicating? Word choice is crucial to effective communication, and that includes choosing the right transition for each sentence.
Make every transition a smooth one
Not sure if the transition word you chose is the right one? Run your writing through Grammarly and get suggestions for how to pick the perfect words and strike the appropriate tone that works best for what you’re communicating.