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Have a look at these two paragraphs. Which one sounds better?
There was heavy traffic. Paolo was late to work. His boss was angry with him. He tried to apologise. His boss simply refused to listen.
Because of the heavy traffic, Paolo was late to work. As a result, his boss was angry with him. However, when he tried to apologise, his boss simply refused to listen.
Did you find that paragraph B sounds much better? The ideas are connected and the text sounds more sophisticated.
In fact, the only difference between the paragraphs is that, in B, we used four simple linking phrases: because of, as a result, however and when.
What are linking words?
Linking words are sometimes called linking phrases (they can be made up of more than one word), connectors or even linkers.
In short, they connect ideas together. We use them in both writing and speaking, but they are most important in writing because they provide structure to your paragraphs.
Linking words can connect two parts of one sentence. They go at the beginning of a sentence or in between the two parts:
Example 1: Although it was summer, George was wearing a thick coat.
Example 2: George was wearing a thick coat although it was summer.
Linking words can also connect an idea from the previous sentence (or paragraph) to the current one:
Example: Paolo was late to work. As a result, his boss was angry with him.
Why are linking words important?
Linking words provide a structure to your writing. They also inform the reader or listener of what is to come:
Example. Maria invited all of her friends to the party. Unfortunately…
The word unfortunately here tells the reader to expect bad news regarding Maria’s party. In speaking, this helps the listener to understand the next part of the message.
Lower-level English learners (CEFR levels A1-A2) rarely use linking words. Learners at intermediate level (B1-B2) use basic linking words. Learners at an advanced level (C1-C2) use a full range of linking words and phrases, including the tricky ones which we will look at in a moment!
Hence, as your English improves to advanced level, you will need to understand and use a wider range of connectors (such as ‘hence’).
Examples of linking words
There are hundreds of linking words and phrases in English. It helps to think of them in different categories, so here is a categorised list with one example of each:
- As a result
Example: George was late. As a result, his boss was angry.
- In addition
Example: Social media is addictive. Moreover, it has been shown to cause depression.
Cause and effect
- Due to
- As a result
- Because of
Example: Due to the large volume of requests, we are not accepting further applications at the moment.
- Even though
Example: Pedro is very tall. However, his brother is quite short.
- Even if
Example: We will only proceed if you sign the documents.
Showing a different opinion
- On the contrary
- On the other hand
Example: People think that wine is unhealthy. On the contrary, a glass or two a day can improve longevity.
- That is
- Simply put
- To be clear
- In other words
Example: These settings will disrupt the adaptive algorithms in the logic subroutines. Simply put, it will cause the computer to stop working.
Concession, or conceding, means admitting you were wrong or admitting that one part of your statement was problematic.
Example: George doesn’t believe in God. Nevertheless, he cannot explain how the universe came to exist.
- In brief
- To sum up
- In summary
- In a nutshell
- On the whole
- All things considered
Example: In this essay, we have seen the many problems related to using coal. All things considered, it is not a suitable form of energy.
Tricky linking words
Here is a list of tricky linking words. These are all words that my own students often ask me to explain.
These two terms have the same meaning, but the way that we use each one is different.
Because connects two independent clauses. If we wish to ignore confusing grammar terms, this means it joins two complete sentences:
Example: The traffic was bad because it was raining.
Whereas, because of joins one complete sentence to one noun or noun phrase. (A noun phrase is simply a noun made up of more than one word.)
Example: The traffic was bad because of the rain.
Example: George lost money because the stock market went down.
Example: George lost money because of the stock market.
Conditional sentences are sentences that state a possible condition, usually with the word if, but also with words like unless.
Conditional sentences in English are quite complex. We have the first conditional, the second conditional, the third conditional and even something called the zero conditional!
Let’s look at the second conditional if sentence, the one that causes the most confusion.
Example: If I had wings, I would fly like a bird.
Immediately after the word if, we use a past tense verb… even though the sentence is not in past tense. What tense is it in? Well, that’s the tricky part. A second conditional sentence describes an imaginary situation, so we can’t really say it’s present, past or future. It’s just imaginary.
Note that we use the past tense in one part of the sentence and the modal verb would in the other. Here are some further examples:
Example: If I had a billion dollars, I would be rich.
Example: George would be sad if he didn’t have any friends.
When is a pretty straightforward linking word, but it does have one quirk. What do you notice about these sentences?
Example 1: When Rafael visited, we drank root beer.
Example 2: When Rafael visits, we drink root beer.
Example 3: When Rafael visits, we will drink root beer.
Did you spot it? In the past tense, both sentence parts use a past tense verb. In the present tense, both sentence parts use a present tense verb. But in the future, the verb immediately following when remains in the present tense.
Incorrect: When I will go to Japan, I will visit Mount Fuji.
Correct: When I visit Japan, I will visit Mount Fuji.
Why does English have such weird rules? Now that’s a good question!
My students often confuse unless and if. The meaning of unless is something similar to: if…not. This can be very confusing if you do not have a similar word in your own language.
Incorrect: I will take an umbrella unless it is raining.
Correct: I will take an umbrella unless it is sunny. (If it is not sunny)
Even though/even if
We can use even to make though or if stronger.
Be careful not to confuse these two. Even though has the same meaning as though/although, but the word ‘even’ shows that it is surprising or unexpected in some way.
Example: Even though Luigi is Italian, he doesn’t eat pasta.
Even if works the same way. The meaning is the same as if, but surprising or unexpected.
Example: Even if I had a billion dollars, I would still want more.
There are many linking words that look like you could use them to connect two parts of a sentence… but you can’t. However is the most common one.
Note the following examples:
Incorrect: I went to Mikhail’s house, however he wasn’t home.
Correct: I went to Mikhail’s house. However, he wasn’t home.
We can use however to connect two ideas, but we cannot use it to join two sentence parts, like we do with but or although. We need to begin a new sentence.
Other words that are used in the same way are moreover, therefore and furthermore.
However, there is a “workaround”: semicolons.
Yes, I know, a semicolon is not a ‘word’, but I would like to mention it anyway.
My students often ask me what semicolons are for.
Here’s the answer. We can use a semicolon to connect any two sentences as long as the ideas in each sentence are related.
Let’s see some examples:
Incorrect: I didn’t enjoy the play it was too long.
Correct: I didn’t enjoy the play; it was too long.
This is a writer’s trick. If you are not sure which linking word to use, just use a semicolon!
We can also use it to ‘correct’ sentences with however, moreover, therefore and furthermore:
Incorrect: I went to Mikhail’s house, however he wasn’t home.
Correct: I went to Mikhail’s house; however, he wasn’t home.
In fact, this is a very common way to use semicolons.
When we add ‘ever’ to these words, we make them more general:
Whoever = anyone that
However = any way that
Whenever = anytime that
Whatever = anything that
Whichever = any one that
Wherever = anywhere that
Here are some examples:
Example: You can come visit me whenever you want.
(You can come visit me anytime that you want.)
Example: Whoever wins the contest will be rich.
(Anyone who wins the contest will be rich.)
Example: You can use the information however you want.
(You can use the information any way that you want.)
Again, these words are tricky because there may not be a direct translation for them in your own language. Thus, you may not think to use them when speaking English.
However, it is good to push yourself and use structures which are uncommon in your mother tongue. When you do this, you know your English is nearing an advanced level.
Improving your linking words
There are so many more linking words out there. To reach an advanced level of English, you will want to know as many as possible, and then use them in your own English. What is the best way to do this?
I have two tips that are perfect for independent learners:
1 Be curious
Every time you digest information in English, whether it is reading, watching videos or listening to podcasts, be curious. Listen out for linking words that you haven’t heard before.
When you hear a new one, write it down and see if you hear it again. After hearing it two or three times, try using it yourself.
You do proofread your writing, don’t you?
Proofreading is the perfect time to go back through your text and examine the structure. Is it clear? Or should you add some linking words to help guide the reader?
Follow these tips and you will master linking words before you know it!