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Dress your paper in silk stockings

photo by Marc Olivier

photo by Marc Olivier

Real fluency takes a lot of time and hard work, but you’ve got a paper due in two weeks. What to do? This next installment in my series about how to write French papers that don’t suck has one easy tip: use million dollar transition words and phrases. You wouldn’t believe the difference they make on French people or on impressionable professors like myself. Even if you’re not a student and you don’t have to write papers, the same principle applies. Certain words elevate people’s perception of your fluency. Sure, the content may be crap, but at least it will be crap wrapped in a silk stocking (to paraphrase Napoleon).

Transitions suggest that there is coherent thought behind your words. Use them judiciously and you might even create the semblance of the “connected discourse” so beloved in ACTFL proficiency guidelines. I won’t attempt an exhaustive list or a treatise on logical connectives, so consider this a good starter kit.

Putting things in order 

Things that approximate “first”



En premier lieu (this one’s the most formal of the three)

You might follow-up with “second”


En deuxième lieu

Or something like “next”



Maybe augment it with a “moreover” or an “in fact”

De plus

En fait

And wrap it up with a “finally” or “in conclusion” type transition

Pour conclure


En dernier lieu

Illustrating a point or clarifying

To say things like “indeed” or “for example”

Par exemple

En effet

Or, “in other words”


En d’autres termes

Autrement dit

Ou plus précisément

Showing that things aren’t as simple as they appear

You can introduce nuance with words that roughly fall into the “however” or “nevertheless” type function




Pourtant (this one pairs well with a paradox)

Or maybe introduce a counterpoint (similar to above, but slightly stronger)

Par contre

En revanche (fancier than “par contre” and more fun to say)

Bordering on wishy washy, in my opinion, are those two-part “one the one hand…on the other hand…” type expressions

D’une part…d’autre part…

D’un côté… which you could follow up with De l’autre côté …(assuming there are only two sides) or D’un autre côté…(if this is one more of many possible sides)

Referring to an issue

I’ve always liked the French equivalent of “As for x” (or “regarding…”) because you get to make that crisp “t” sound before the preposition “à”

Quant à …

“On this subject” type expressions

À ce sujet

À ce propos (fancier option)

Showing the implications of your brilliant logic

“And that’s why…” (sounds better in French) and “consequently”

C’est pourquoi

Par conséquent

The staples “thus” and “therefore”



 I could list dozens more, but those Netflix movies aren’t going to watch themselves. I’ve got some vegetating to do. So pour conclure, words like those above are like force fields against potential attacks on the flow of your writing. They also practically force you to organize your thoughts more clearly. Just think how much nicer your crappy paper will look dressed up in them.

Maybe we’ll work on content in a future post. As for grammar, What The French?! is your best friend. If you don’t own an iPad or a Mac, we promise, we’re still working on a version for you. Be patient.

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