Discourse Markers

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Discourse markers are words or phrases that help connect ideas in a text, that’s why they are sometimes also called connectors.

Here you will find a selection of different types of connectors:

1. Connectors for Addition and Contrast  

        Read the pairs of sentences below: Which pair expresses similar ideas? Which pair expresses contrasting ideas?

        1. Their team has got the best players. Moreover, their coach is fantastic.

        2. Their team has got the best players. Nevertheless, they lost the last game.

       CONNECTORS OF ADDITION: in addition, furthermore, moreover, as well as, also, and

       CONNECTORS OF CONTRAST: however, nevertheless, on the one hand / on the other hand, in spite of / despite, although /even though, but

       Some connectors have got similar meanings but are followed by different structures. Despite and in spite of are followed by a noun phrase or a gerund.

                                   We did not wear coats despite the cold weather.

                                   I tried to look happy in spite of feeling terrible.

        Even though and although are followed by a clause.

                                   My car constantly needs repairs even though it’s new.

                                   My cousin and I aren’t very close, although we’re the same age.

       Connectors are usually written in specific places in a sentence:

                 At the beginning of a sentence: in addition, furthermore, moreover, however, nevertheless, on the one hand, on the other hand.

                Either at the beginning or in the middle: despite, in spite of, although, even though.

                Only in the middle of a sentence: and, but, also, as well as

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            2. Connectors for Cause and Result

A)  Connectors used to indicate the cause:

Conjunctions followed by a complete sentence:

  • Because: it usually follows the main clause: Everybody likes her because she’s very kind and friendly.
  • As and since are very similar. As is less formal than since. They are used when the reason is well known. The clauses that start with these words often begin the sentence:
    As I was very tired, I went to bed early.
     Since you are not interested, I won’t tell you about it.
    (As and since can also be used as time connectors).
  • For suggests that the reason is given as an afterthought. For-clauses never come at the beginning of the sentence. For is mainly used in literary texts, therefore, it is very formal.
    We listened eagerly, for he brought news of our families.

Connectors followed by a noun, a noun phrase, a pronoun or a gerund:

  • Because of: They have had problems raising cash because of the credit crunch.
  • Due to and owing to are considered by many speakers as exact equivalents, but this is not so, because due to is adjectival (it follows a noun or pronoun), whereas owing to is adverbial (it complements a verb). Compare these examples:
    The game was cancelled owing to torrential rain. 
    The cancellation of the game was due to torrential rain.
    If you are doubtful as to which of these you can use, here’s a trick: try to substitute due to with “caused by” and see if it works. *The game was cancelled caused by torrential rain.* doesn’t sound correct, so it’s not possible to use due to in this case. On the other hand, The cancellation of the game was caused by torrential rain, sounds fine. 
    Owing to is interchangeable with because of: The game was cancelled because of torrential rain.
  • On account of: The nurse had to keep the baby in another room on account of my illness.
  • Thanks to suggests that there is some cause for gratitude, though it can be used sarcastically. She was given a scholarship thanks to her excellent grades.

B) Connectors used to indicate the result or consequence:

  • Thus (very formal): He was the eldest son, and thus, heir to the title.
  • Therefore (formal, used mainly in written English): She is only seventeen and therefore not eligible to vote.
  • As a result: There has been a rise in the number of accidents. As a result, the government has decided to lower the speed limit. As a result of is followed by a noun, pronoun or gerund. Can you rewrite the previous example using as a result of?
     As a result of the rise in the number of accidents, the government…
  • So (less formal): There was nothing on TV, so I decided to go to bed.
  • That’s why: Cold temperatures kill mosquitos, that’s why you won’t see them in winter.
  • For this reason: The Colonel was confident that war was impending, and for this reason he hurried his preparations to leave the country.
  • Consequently (used especially in written English): This poses a threat to the food chain, and consequently to human health.
  • So + adjective or adverb + that: Henry was so late for class that the teacher didn’t allow him to come into the room. 
  • Such (a) + (adjective)+ noun + that: The film was such a success that he won the Oscar.

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3. Connectors for Condition

We use several connectors when we want to indicate a condition.

The most common is If:

If I see him, I’ll give him the message.

We can use Even If to emphasize the idea that something will/would happen:

Even if we leave now, we won’t be able to catch the train.

Only If makes the condition more restrictive:

You should come to the cinema only if you like horror movies.

We can use Whether when the condition can be considered as an alternative between  two possibilities:

I don’t know whether they will agree (or not) on that subject.

We use Unless to express a negative condition:

You won’t pass the exam unless you study harder.

Other conectors are:

A) Necessary Conditions

Provided (that): We’ll go fishing this afternoon, provided (that) it doesn’t rain.

Providing (that): You can borrow my car providing (that) you return it today.

On the condition that: I’ll lend you the money on the condition that you pay me back next month.

As long as: Nobody will know this secret as long as you keep your mouth shut.

But for + noun: I would have arrived earlier but for the traffic jam. (if it hadn’t been for the)

B) Imaginary Conditions

In case: Take your umbrella in case it rains. (indicates a precautionary action)

Assuming (that): Assuming that Barça beats Real Madrid in their next match, Cristiano will quit the team.

Supposing / Suppose (that): Supposing that you won the lottery. What would you do?

Imagine (that): You want to play tennis tomorrow, but just imagine that it rains. Will you still play?

If only and I wish

Sometimes we can make the condition more empatic by placing only after if:

If only I knew what to do, I would tell you.

If only I had time, I would go to the cinema.

If only can sometimes be replaces by I wish, omitting the main clause:

I wish I knew what to do.

I wish I had time (to go to the cinema).

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4. Connectors for purpose

Clauses of purpose are introduced with the following connectors:

– The most common is a to + infinitive:

     David went out to buy a bottle of wine.

– In formal writing, in order to + infinitive and so as to + infinitive are often used:

We were asked to say over in order to finish the project.

– In formal writing, you can also introduce a purpose clause with so that or in order that:

                         – so that + can/will is used for a present or future reference:

                          Here’s my number so that you can call me if you have a problem.

                         – so that + could/would is used for a past reference:

                         We left early so that we would be able to park close to the stadium.

– Other ways of expressing purpose:

                         with a view to, with the intention of, with the object/aim of, for the purpose of + V-ing:

                        The university introduced two new English courses with a view to enhancing students’ proficiency in the language.

for fear of + V-ing:  He didn’t ask the results for fear of having failed.

– The use of for:

         for + noun:

Let’s go to the pool for a swim.

         for + V-ing: is used to express the function of something: We use a thermometre for measuring temperature.

Negative Purpose

in order not to/so as not to + infinitive: We walked in quietly so as not to wake up the children.

prevent + noun/pronoun + from + V-ing: I parked the car under a tree to prevent it from getting too hot.

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