Transition Words: Punctuation

7 Punctuation Guidelines to Follow When You Use Transition Words

by Owen Fourie

Punctuation is often tricky.

When you use transition or linking words, you have to punctuate correctly.

This article will guide you in this particular aspect of your writing. Use it as a complementary reference alongside the article 18 Categories of Linking Words to Use in Your Essays.

Some terms have been underlined in the text and are defined briefly at the end of this article for your convenience.


When you use a transitional word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence,

place a comma after that word or phrase.

I like to read. In particular, books about the African continent arouse my curiosity.


When you use a transitional word to connect two complete sentences,

place a semicolon at the end of the first sentence

followed by the transition word at the beginning of the second sentence

with a comma after the transition word.

I have always had a deep interest in Africa; therefore, it is not surprising that my personal library contains over five hundred volumes with an African theme.


When you use a transitional word or phrase in the middle of a clause,

place a comma before it and after it.

Several rare volumes of my African collection were damaged in a storm many years ago. I have managed, nevertheless, to locate replacements for most of them.


When you use a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, so, yet)

to introduce an independent clause,

place a comma before it.

(In formal writing, it is better not to begin a sentence with one of these words.)

Many people watch film adaptations of African literature before reading the book, but I prefer to read the book before I see the movie.

When you use and or or, it is not necessary to use a comma if the clauses are short and logically related, such as in a cause-and-effect relationship.

We should go now or we shall miss the beginning of Otelo Burning.


When you use a subordinating conjunction (after, although, as, because, before, if, since, unless, when, while … ),

place a comma directly after the dependent clause it introduces

if that clause comes before an independent clause.

After we saw the movie Otelo Burning, we wrote a review.

If the subordinating conjunction introduces a dependent clause that comes after an independent clause, do not use a comma.

I advised my students to read King Solomon’s Mines before they saw the 2004 movie version.

If, occasionally, you see that an established writer has used a comma after an independent clause and before a dependent clause, the comma is being employed for emphasis.

You should read King Solomon’s Mines, before you see the movie.


When you use prepositional phrases as transitional phrases,

follow the rules for subordinating conjunctions. (See number 5 above.)

In spite of my advice, some students did not read the book before seeing the movie.

Some students did not read the book before seeing the movie in spite of my advice.


When you use correlative conjunctions (not only … but also),

and you are connecting two independent clauses,

place a comma before the second part of the conjunction (but also).

Out of Africa is not only a superbly written book, but it is also a breathtakingly spectacular movie.

When you use correlative conjunctions,

and you are connecting words or phrases,

do not place a comma before the second part of the conjunction.

Out of Africa is not only a superbly written book but also a breathtakingly spectacular movie.


Brief definitions of terms used in this article

Coordinating conjunction: a word such as and, but, or or. It is used to connect sentences, clauses, phrases, or words that are of equal value in grammar. It is used to introduce a coordinate clause (an independent clause), which is grammatically equal to the main clause of a sentence.

Correlative conjunction: a word that is paired with another word to connect two parts of a sentence: either … or; both … and; not only … but also.

Subordinating conjunction: a word such as although, because, if, or until. It is used to introduce a dependent clause and makes that clause a constituent of an independent clause

Dependent clause: a clause that cannot stand alone and make sense. It needs to be joined to an independent clause. Within a sentence, it serves as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb.

Independent clause: a clause that can stand alone as a complete sentence.

Phrase: a group of words that forms a grammatical unit without making a complete sentence. It does not have a subject-verb combination such as you will find in a clause.

Prepositional phrase: a phrase that contains a preposition at its head and the object of the preposition following it. Such phrases usually function as adjectives or adverbs.


Apply these guidelines as you connect the various parts of your writing to improve the clarity and the flow of your work.


Irish playwright Oscar Wilde once said that he had worked on the proof of one of his poems all morning and took out a comma, but he put it back again in the afternoon. Punctuation is often tricky. If you need help with a specific issue about punctuation, mention it here. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

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