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Improve Your Writing with Contrast and Concession

Everyday Grammar - Improve Your Writing with Contrast and Concession
Everyday Grammar - Improve Your Writing with Contrast and Concession
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For VOA Learning English, this is Everyday Grammar.

Today we are going to talk about words that connect opposing ideas.

We call these ideas contrast or concession. Some of these adverbs are but, although, however and despite. These words will help you communicate more complex ideas. They will improve the flow and clarity of your writing.

Contrast versus concession

Let us begin by understanding the differences between contrast and concession. Here are two examples:

I used to live in Malaysia, but now I live in Thailand.

Even though I live in Malaysia, I work in Thailand.

The first example shows a simple contrast. The first sentence, “I used to live in Malaysia” indicates my previous place of residence. The second part of the sentence, “but now I live in Thailand”, shows that I now live in another place. The statement contrasts these two different places: the one where I used to live and the one where I live now.

In the second example, “Even though I live in Malaysia” tells you where I live now. But this sentence contains a surprise for my readers: “I work in Thailand.” When the opposing idea is something readers do not expect or that surprises them, we call it concession.


Let us start with but, the most common way to show contrast. But is a coordinator. We use it to connect ideas that are more or less of equal value. Here are some examples:

The students were tired after the test, but were happy with their results.

Some refugees have found new homes, but others are still living in camps.

Luca tried to solve the math problem for two hours, but he could not find the answer.

In the second and third examples, notice that the conjunction but connects two independent sentences or clauses. In this case, we use a comma before but.

However, nevertheless, nonetheless

A more formal way to say but is however. Consider the examples:

We really wanted to go to that concert; however, we could not afford the tickets.

Car prices went up fast. However, motorcycle prices are still the same.

In these examples, you can replace however with nevertheless or nonetheless. The idea will remain the same. However and nonetheless can make your sentences more formal.

You have some options for punctuation. You could write, “I am tired. [period] However, [comma] I will finish the job.” Or you could write, “I am tired; [semicolon] however, [comma] I will finish the job.” The semicolon is a punctuation option to connect two independent clauses that are closely related. It is up to the writer to decide whether to use a period or a semicolon.

Although, even though, and though

Although and even though are two common adverbs to express unexpected results or surprises. They are subordinators: adverbs that show that one idea is more important than the other. Here are some examples:

I managed to fall asleep although we were watching an action movie.

Although we were watching an action movie, I managed to fall asleep.

In both sentences, the subordinating conjunction although is attached to the clause that contains the less important idea. “Although we were watching an action movie,” cannot stand alone as a sentence; it is a subordinate clause. If the subordinate clause comes first, we must separate the two by using a comma. If the subordinate clause comes second, there is no comma.

Here are two examples with even though.

These students already know how to read even though they are still in kindergarten.

Even though these students are still in kindergarten, they already know how to read.

Though is less formal than although and even though. It is more common in spoken English. Here are some examples:

Though Indra waited for almost an hour, his doctor never showed up.

Indra’s doctor never showed up though he waited for almost an hour.

To make your sentence even more conversational, you can move though to the end:

Indra waited for almost an hour. His doctor never showed up, though.

In spite of, despite

In spite of and despite are also subordinators to show unexpected results. They also come attached to the subordinate clause. However, they require a different sentence structure. Consider the examples:

That man has saved a lot of money in spite of earning a small salary.

That artist is very creative despite having limited resources.

In these examples, in spite of and despite are followed by a gerund. A gerund is the “-ing” form of a verb which functions like a noun. In the sentences above, “earning a small salary” and “having limited resources” are gerund phrases.

Despite and in spite of can also be followed by noun phrases.

My brother has managed to save a lot of money in spite of his small salary.

That artist is very creative despite her limited resources.

His small salary and her limited resources are noun phrases.

In spite of that

In spite of that can also be used to indicate contrast or concession, but it works as a coordinating conjunction. Therefore, it is used to connect two independent clauses. For example:

Most students had understood the explanation; in spite of that, the teacher wrote a few more examples.

It rained for almost three hours non-stop. In spite of that, the ground is already dry.


The best way to master these transition words is to make up a few sentences of your own. After you start practicing, you will naturally begin to remember when and how to use these words more accurately. Try to write a few sentences using the transition words above and post them here for comments.

I’m Jill Robbins.

And I’m John Russell.

This article was written by guest writer Fabio de Oliveira Coelho. Fabio is a linguist and bilingual educator. He has worked on education and development projects in Brazil, the United States, Nicaragua, Indonesia, and Guinea-Bissau. He was born in Brazil and is a now U.S. citizen. Fabio is an English Language Fellow with the U.S. Department of State in Semarang, Indonesia.


Words in This Story

contrast - n. a difference between people or things that are being compared

concession - n. grammar. a clause which begins with "although" or "even though" and which expresses an idea that suggests the opposite of the main part of the sentence.

clause - n. grammar. a part of a sentence that has its own subject and verb

semicolonn. the punctuation mark ; that is used to separate major parts in a sentence and to separate items in a series if the items contain commas

subordinate clausen. grammar. a clause that does not form a simple sentence by itself and that is connected to the main clause of a sentence

gerund – n. grammar. an English noun formed from a verb by adding -ing