Understand Academic Linking Words 

The most common linking words are the conjunctions ‘and,’ ‘but,’ 'or,' and ‘if.’ However, adverbs (like ‘however’) are also very important for linking thoughts and making smooth transitions between them.

Both make it easier to understand what the writer or speaker is saying, so they are very important to good writing. (If interested, you can learn more about the different types of common transition words, and practice with them, in Transition Words Practice.

orca breaching for air, to demonstrate the linking words 'despite', 'likewise', & 'whereas.'
orca breaching for air, to demonstrate the linking words 'despite', 'likewise', & 'whereas.'

This page explains (and then lets you practice) some less common linking words mostly used in academic writing. They express similar connections, but they vary in use and connotations.  It’s better to use more common words in your own writing, at least until you have read them often enough to be sure how to use them.

However, it is still valuable to understand them. These academic connectors will help you make sense of important ideas and arguments. Scholars often choose a less common word that exactly expresses their thought rather than a more common linking word that might give a slightly different meaning to the discussion.

These words are used in speeches and debates as well as essays. I’m going to refer to the writer (for simplicity assume it is a man) and his readers, but often the words might be used by a speaker to make a point to his (or her) audience as well.

Although words like despite, nevertheless, or likewise are not common in everyday speech, they are common enough in essays, textbooks, and speeches to be on the Academic Word List. That means they occur frequently in many types of academic writing, and can be essential to understanding the author's point.

Transitions Showing Contrast

Albeit, despite, nevertheless, nonetheless, notwithstanding, and whereas all show a contrast. They are similar in meaning to the more common transition words ‘but,’ ’although,’ and ‘however.’ They are often used to concede (admit) that the opposing side in a discussion has a valid point, BUT that the opponents' point is not strong enough to reverse the writer’s argument.

These words all mean basically “in spite of that” or “anyway.”  However, the way they are used differs considerably, so that they cannot be interchanged (except for never- and nonetheless.)

Albeit and Despite

·       Albeit is a conjunction like ‘but.’ (So it does not have to be followed by a clause, as ‘although’ does.) It comes from ‘although it be,’ and is similar in meaning to ‘although it is’ or ‘even if they are.’

·       Despite is a preposition. It is used when a whole statement (clause) is not needed. It must be followed by a noun or noun phrase. 

Nevertheless, Nonetheless, Notwithstanding, and Whereas

·       Nevertheless and nonetheless are often followed directly by a pause (a comma). They tell the reader that the writer is returning to his point after acknowledging the arguments against it (or the way things could have been different.) "It is true that coffee can help a person stay alert. Nevertheless, water is a healthier drink."

·       Notwithstanding can be a preposition, a conjunction, or an adjective. Its meaning can be similar to 'despite' or to 'anyway.' It can be used before a phrase or a clause, or even after a clause: "Cinderella enjoyed the ball, her midnight deadline notwithstanding."

·       Whereas is a conjunction that means 'as compared to' or ‘on the contrary.’ An example using it:

"Americans have simplified the spelling of many words (color, labor,  honor) whereas the British have kept the old spellings (colour, labour, honour.)" 

A Few Examples

These examples are from the King James translation of the Bible, as many of these words were more common several centuries ago, although they are still used in academic circles.

·       Hebrews 12:11:  “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (He is saying that discipline is unpleasant now, but later it produces what’s right and brings peace to those who received it.)

·       Matthew 2:22:: “But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee.” (When Joseph heard that Herod’s son Archelaus was king in Judea, he was afraid to go there, but instead he went into Galilee, according to God’s warning in a dream.)

·      John 9:25: "He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” (He said “I don’t know if he’s a sinner or not, but I do know that I was blind, but now I see.”)

Linking Words that Move the Discussion Along

·       Furthermore (like ‘in addition’ or ‘moreover’) signals an addition to the previous thought.

·       Hence (much like ‘therefore’) tells the reader that the point just made leads directly to the conclusion coming up: “Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life...”-- Aristotle.   (Hence can also mean ‘from now ’ or ‘from here.’) 

·       Likewise indicates another example is coming, or that something else is ‘like’ (similar to) the preceding statement.

·       Thereby (by that specific means) & whereby (by what means) show how the example given contributes to the writer or speaker’s point.

More examples from the King James Bible:

·        Luke 8:31: "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (Treat them the same way you want to be treated.)

·       John 11:4:"When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (by it.)

·       Luke 1:18: "And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.” (Here whereby just means ‘how.’)

Via and Somewhat

·       Via is a preposition that means ‘by way of.’ “In New York, many people travel via subway.” “Good scientists reach conclusions via careful observation and experimentation.”

·       Somewhat means ‘in a limited way’ or ‘to some extent’ as compared to ‘fully’ or ‘completely.’ “The young man was somewhat tired after working in the field all day, but his father was exhausted.”

Practice Using These Linking Words 

Use the words below to type into the blanks (gaps). Remember to capitalize the first word in each sentence, and check your spelling. When you have filled in all the gaps, click on the "check" button. 

albeit, furthermore, hence, nevertheless, notwithstanding, via, whereas, whereby

Although dolphins and whales appear to be fish, they are actually mammals, more closely related to people than to sharks. Fish have scales and lay eggs, whales have skin, and bear and nurse live young. Whales cannot get oxygen from water as fishes do. Instead, they breathe air their blowholes, they can endure underwater without surfacing for much longer than land mammals can.

Different kinds of whales and dolphins make various sounds including songs, whistles, and clicks they can communicate with each other over long distances through the water. Some whales have even attempted to imitate human sounds they hear. Their anatomy and ways of making sounds are very different, such efforts imply an interest in communicating with people as well. (1)

Dolphins are some of the most intelligent creatures scientists have studied. Scientists currently have more questions than answers about how dolphins think and communicate with each other. , they have made some very interesting discoveries in the last few years. They have observed how dolphins socialize, play, and resolve conflicts with each other.

, they have found ways to invite dolphins to play a few games with them, and to enable dolphins to communicate back. (The dolphins can push buttons on a large underwater board to indicate interest in several toys like a ball or rope.)

their watery life, whales and dolphins are fellow mammals-- not-so-distant relatives. Ongoing research (such as that discussed in this TED talk) is exploring the possibilities of learning to communicate with them.


1. Wikipedia on whale vocalizations.

2. A TED talk on communicating with dolphins.

See Academic Writing for some suggestions on what universities and professional organizations in English-speaking countries expect from essays, reports, or presentations. 

Home> ESL Writing> Academic Linking Words.

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