Monday, November 3, 2008

Paired Conjunctions and Transitional Phrases

Dear Purdue or UniSA Grammar staff or students,

Can you explain what 'paired conjunctions' and 'transitional phrases' are for a teaching colleague in Singapore, please?

We are looking for an explanation, examples and resources.

Many thanks


Transitional devices connect bits of information (large or small) in different ways. To borrow from Purdue's OWL, transitional devices work like bridges, linking together various objects, ideas, paragraphs, or even whole parts of a paper. I use the phrase "linking together" quite loosely, because some transitional devices, such as "whereas" or "in contrast," highlight the fact that the items are completely different from or even opposed to each other. The OWL has an excellent list of transitional devices, which are categorized according to function.

There is one note of caution: it is possible to overuse transitional devices. If every sentence of a paragraph begins with a transitional device, it will become a distraction for the reader. Reading a paper with too many transitional devices is sort of like trying to fall asleep while a buzzer goes off intermittently. Eventually you stop focusing on sleeping and instead just wait for the next sound. As with many grammar principles, moderation is key. Use transitional devices to strengthen your argument or increase the paper's flow rather than to show off or take up space.

It is also worth noting that sometimes the lack of a transitional device can actually strengthen the link between the items. Here is an example.

With transitional device
Global warming is a worldwide problem, but although this may be true,
few communities seek to address it collectively.

Without transitional device
Global warming is a worldwide problem; few communities seek to address it collectively.

Paired conjunctions show equality between two items, which again is not necessarily positive (a=b). Like the name implies, paired conjunctions are specific groupings of words that generally frame an entire sentence. Our anonymous poster gave an excellent list in the comments section, so I will reproduce his/her list on the main blog (many thanks!).

both ..... and
not only.... but also
either ... or
neither ... nor
just as ... so (do)

When using a paired conjunction, the main grammatical principle to keep in mind is parallel structure. Parallel structure basically means that all items in a series (2 items make a series!) must be grammatically similar. This is especially true with paired conjunctions. For example, if a subject and a verb follow "not only," they should also follow "but also."

Not only does he write his papers at 3:00 am, but he also studies for exams at that time.

The OWL has a more in-depth discussion of parallel structure at the following link:


Anonymous said...

Paired conjuctions are used for emphasis in speaking and writing and like their relative the conjunction, they join two ideas in a sentence or utterance.
Examples are:
both ..... and;
not only.... but also;
either ...or;
neither ...nor.

Smoking is bad for the lungs and the heart. (conjunction)
Smoking is both bad for the lungs and the heart. (paired conjunctions)
Smoking is not only bad for the lungs but also the heart.

Anonymous said...

Transitional phrases improve flow and connect thoughts in sentences or utteranaces.

Examples are:
as well as; in addition; as a result; for the most part;generally speaking; as an illustration;in other words; on the one hand; on the other hand; first of all; in the long run.

Andrea said...

Wow - that was excellent. Thanks 'anonymous' (ie Cathy!) and friends from purdue.