University of Coimbra

English at FEUC

WebOnCampus

 Faculty of Economics

 

 

Coimbra, Portugal

Discourse Markers

 

Discourse markers are words that give us ‘little messages’ to help us comprehend a text or to understand how the speaker or writer is feeling.

Examples of these ‘little messages’ include:

bulletHere comes bad news!
bulletHere comes a contrast!
bulletThe text is almost finished!

 

Eleven types of discourse marker are described below. Each one has a role to play. You need to understand the roles including the three examples above.

 

Discourse markers that are mainly used in speaking (not writing) are shown in “speech marks”.

 

The main roles played by discourse markers are:

 

1) Numbering and Ordering Points

 

We use these discourse markers to number and order the points that we want to make in a text. They help us to understand the order of the information.

 

first

second

third

fourth

fifth

firstly

secondly

thirdly

fourthly

fifthly

“first of all”

“in the first place”

 

 

 

then

next

afterwards

 

 

finally

last

lastly

“last of all”

 

 

2) Adding Something

 

We use these discourse markers to indicate that we are adding more information:

 

also

moreover

furthermore

further

 

in addition

additionally

also

“too”

“what is more”

“besides”*

alternatively**

instead**

“on top of this/that”

 

The words within this table are synonymous.

 

* ‘besides’ usually introduces information which supports what has already been said or written but is a different kind of point. We often use ‘besides’ when we are persuading, giving advice or arguing.

 

** We use ‘alternatively’ or ‘instead’ to mark that something is a different possibility i.e. an alternative.

 

3) Linking Similar Things Together

 

We use ‘similarly’ and ‘likewise’ to show that something is similar to something else that has already been mentioned.

 

e.g. You might hear in a weather forecast:  “ Rain is expected today in all parts of the country and likewise tomorrow.”

 

4) Introducing Contrasting Information

 

We use discourse markers to introduce information or points of view which contrast with

bullet what we have already said or written
bullet what we would normally expect

We use them to draw attention to (apparent) inconsistency. We often use them with ‘but’

e.g. ‘but actually’; ‘but nevertheless’

 

however

in fact

on the other hand

in contrast

“actually”

nevertheless

still

on the contrary

“though”

“as a matter of fact”

“all the same”

yet

nonetheless

“anyway”

“at the same time”

 

The words within this table are synonymous. They are all saying, ‘Here comes a contrast!”

e.g. “Rain is expected today. However, tomorrow the sun will shine!”

 

5) Giving Causes and Results

We can use the following discourse markers to show that something is caused by, or results from, something else:

 

so

then

therefore

hence

thus

consequently

“in that case”

“as a result”

 

 

The words within this table are synonymous.

 

e.g. In mathematics your (primary school) teacher might say. “Three ice creams cost €4.50 so one ice cream costs €1.50.”

 

6) Generalising

We use the following discourse markers to make it clear that something is generally true and to point out that we are not being specific.

 

on the whole

in general

generally

“by and large”

 

The words within this table are synonymous.

 

7) Giving Examples 

We can use the following discourse markers to introduce examples.

 

notably

for example

for instance

e.g.

“say”

such as

 

The words within this table are synonymous.

 

e.g. “Let’s meet outside the cinema at, say, 7.30.”

 

8) Re-stating/Saying again

We sometimes re-state, or re-write things to make them clearer. We use the following discourse markers to show that the information is not new. These phrases mean ‘I’m going to give the same information again in a different way to help you understand what I mean’.

 

in other words

that is

i.e.

in a sense

“I mean”

 

The words within this table are synonymous.

 

e.g. The seminar will be at the usual time i.e. at 10am.

 

9) Preparing for Bad News

 

We can use these discourse markers to alert people that we are going to say something that they may not like.

 

“I’m afraid”

“I’m sorry but”

“sorry”

“I’m sorry to say/tell you”

unfortunately

regrettably

 

 

The words within this table are synonymous. They all mean, ‘Here comes bad news!’

e.g. I’m afraid your dog is dead!

 

10) Introducing Strong Points of View (perhaps when you are angry!)

 

We sometimes use these discourse markers to reinforce what we want to say:

 

frankly

quite frankly

“honestly”

 

The words within this table are synonymous. They all tell us that the speaker or writer is irritated.

e.g. “Quite frankly, I don’t believe you!”

 

 

11) Finishing and Concluding

 

We can use a variety of discourse markers to close a discussion, thesis, letter or article. These include:

 

in summary

to summarise

in conclusion

to conclude

 to sum up

finally

 

The words within this table are synonymous. They all mean, ‘The text (or speech) is nearly finished!’