Transitions are used to help sentences, paragraphs, and ideas "flow" together. This allows for ease of reading and comprehension by a reader. The less time a reader spends trying to understand connections and relationships between ideas, the more time a reader can spend focusing on content.

When to use transitions

There is no exact rule regarding when to use transitions. However, transitions should generally be included whenever the relationship between ideas would otherwise be unclear. This is important because a reader may not make the same connections as an author.

Transitions can be used to:

  • Add
  • Compare
  • Contrast
  • Intensify
  • Summarize
  • Provide examples
  • Indicate time sequence
  • Indicate place
  • Indicate cause and effect

Transitions within sentences

There are four main types of transitions within sentences:

  • Coordinating conjunctions
  • Subordinating conjunctions
  • Conjunctive adverbs
  • Dependent clauses

Coordinating conjunctions

Within sentences, transitions most commonly appear in the basic form of a coordinating conjunction: a word that separates two independent clauses (complete thoughts) that are equal or balanced.

The seven little coordinating conjunctions are and, but, nor, for, yet, or, and so.

Each coordinating conjunction functions differently within sentences by highlighting different types of connections between ideas.

“But” and “yet” indicate contrast (how two or more ideas are different).
“For” indicates a reason.
“So” indicates cause and effect.
“Or” indicates comparison, choice, or consequence.
“Nor” indicates two negative ideas connected together.
“And” indicates two similar ideas connected together.

In general, coordinating conjunctions must be preceded by a comma when a subject is reintroduced or when a new subject is introduced.

Subordinating conjunctions

Within sentences, subordinating conjunctions link ideas that are unequal or unbalanced. Subordinating conjunctions include such words as because, although, when, if, and unless. They also include phrases, such as rather than, even though, and in order to.

Please note: When a subordinating conjunction is used to connect ideas in the middle of a sentence, a comma is not usually used.

As a general rule, the subordinating conjunctions because, if, unless, since, until, when, before, and after do not use commas. However, the subordinating conjunctions although, even though, and though sometimes use commas.

Conjunctive adverbs

Conjunctive adverbs may be used as a transition within sentences by connecting two independent clauses. When a relationship is shown in this way, a semicolon is necessary to separate the independent clauses, and a comma is necessary following the conjunctive adverb.

For example:
“Global warming has become an unavoidable topic of discussion in Western democracies; consequently, political leaders are beginning to promote more sustainable living alternatives.”

“The effects of global warming are beginning to be taken seriously by our political leaders; however, many actions still need to be taken in order to ensure a sustainable future for our planet.”

Transitions between sentences

Conjunctive adverbs are most commonly used as transitions between sentences.
The conjunctive adverb therefore indicates a cause and effect relationship between the two sentences. When a conjunctive adverb is used in this way, it must be followed by a comma.

Note the similarity when using a conjunctive adverb to connect two ideas within a single sentence versus between two sentences:

  • Participants also mentioned environmental and ethical concerns; however, these concerns were less prominent.
  • Participants also mentioned environmental and ethical concerns. However, these concerns were less prominent.

The main difference between the two methods is the strength of the relationship between ideas: a semicolon creates a stronger relationship between two ideas than a period does.

Transitions between paragraphs

Finally, transitional phrases may appear in the form of a phrase at the end of a paragraph to prepare the reader for what is to come or at the beginning of a paragraph to form a connection to what came before. These sentences also serve to provide a clear and logical ‘flow’ to the essay or paper.