Discourse markers

A discourse marker is a word or expression that (1) shows a speaker's attitude, or (2) connects a sentence to what comes before or after it.

Focusing on the speaker's attitude

There are several ways that speakers can focus on their attitude towards what they are saying, and who they are talking to.

Indicating your opinion

One way of showing your reaction to, or your opinion of, the fact or event you are talking about is by using commenting adverbials, which comment on the whole message given in a sentence.
Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying the play.
Luckily, I had seen the play before so I knew what it was about.
It was, fortunately, not a bad accident, and Henry is only slightly hurt.
Interestingly, the solution adopted in these two countries was the same.
The following adverbials are commonly used in this way:
  • absurdly
  • admittedly
  • alas
  • anyway
  • astonishingly
  • at least
  • characteristically
  • coincidentally
  • conveniently
  • curiously
  • fortunately
  • happily
  • incredibly
  • interestingly
  • ironically
  • luckily
  • mercifully
  • miraculously
  • mysteriously
  • naturally
  • oddly
  • of course
  • paradoxically
  • please
  • predictably
  • remarkably
  • sadly
  • significantly
  • strangely
  • surprisingly
  • true
  • typically
  • unbelievably
  • understandably
  • unexpectedly
  • unfortunately
  • unhappily
  • unnecessarily
One of the uses of `at least' and `anyway' is to show that you are pleased about a particular fact, although there may be other less desirable facts.
At least we're agreed on something.
I like a challenge anyway, so that's not a problem.
There are a few commenting adverbials that are often followed by `enough' when used to show your opinion of what you are talking about:
  • curiously
  • funnily
  • interestingly
  • oddly
  • strangely
Oddly enough, she'd never been abroad.
Funnily enough, I was there last week.

Distancing

There are several commenting adverbials that have the effect of showing that you are not completely committed to the truth of your statement.
Rats eat practically anything.
It was almost a relief when the race was over.
They are, in effect, prisoners in their own homes.
In a way I liked her better than Mark.
The following adverbials are used in this way:
  • almost
  • in a manner of speaking
  • in a way
  • in effect
  • more or less
  • practically
  • so to speak
  • to all intents and purposes
  • to some extent
  • up to a point
  • virtually
Note that `almost', `practically', and `virtually' are not used at the beginning of a clause.

Indicating a quality shown by the performer of an action

Another group of commenting adverbials is used to show a quality you think someone showed by doing an action. They are formed from adjectives that can be used to describe people, and are often placed after the subject of the sentence and in front of the verb.
The League of Friends generously provided about five thousand pounds.
The doctor had wisely sent her straight to hospital.
She very kindly arranged a delicious lunch.
Foolishly, we said we would do the decorating.
The following adverbials are used in this way:
  • bravely
  • carelessly
  • cleverly
  • correctly
  • foolishly
  • generously
  • helpfully
  • kindly
  • rightly
  • wisely
  • wrongly

Mentioning your justification for a statement

If you are basing your statement on something that you have seen, heard, or read, you can use a commenting adverbial to show this. For example, if you can see that an object has been made by hand, you might say `It is obviously made by hand.'
His friend was obviously impressed.
Higgins evidently knew nothing about their efforts.
Apparently they had a row.
These are some common adverbials used in this way:
  • apparently
  • clearly
  • evidently
  • manifestly
  • obviously
  • plainly
  • unmistakably
  • visibly

Showing that you assume your hearer agrees

People often use commenting adverbials to persuade someone to agree with them. In this way, they show that they are assuming that what they are saying is obvious.
Obviously I can't do the whole lot myself.
Price, of course, is an important factor.
The following adverbials are often used in this way:
  • clearly
  • naturally
  • obviously
  • of course
  • plainly

Indicating reality or possibility

Some adverbials are used to show whether a situation actually exists or whether it seems to exist, or might exist.
She seems confident, but actually she's quite shy.
They could, conceivably, be right.
Extra cash is probably the best present.
The following adverbials are used like this:
  • actually
  • certainly
  • conceivably
  • definitely
  • doubtless
  • hopefully
  • in fact
  • in practice
  • in reality
  • in theory
  • maybe
  • no doubt
  • officially
  • perhaps
  • possibly
  • presumably
  • probably
  • really
  • unofficially
  • allegedly
  • apparently
  • ostensibly
  • potentially
  • seemingly
  • supposedly
  • theoretically
  • undoubtedly
The adverbials in the second group are often used in front of adjectives.
We drove along apparently empty streets.
It would be theoretically possible to lay a cable from a satellite to Earth.

Indicating your attitude

If you want to make it clear what your attitude is to what you are saying, you can use a commenting adverbial.
Frankly, the more I hear about him, the less I like him.
In my opinion it was probably a mistake.
Here is a list of some of the common adverbials used in this way:
  • as far as I'm concerned
  • frankly
  • honestly
  • in all honesty
  • in fairness
  • in my opinion
  • in my view
  • in retrospect
  • on reflection
  • personally
  • seriously
  • to my mind

Using infinitive clauses

Another way of showing the sort of statement you are making is to use `to be' followed by an adjective, or `to put it' followed by an adverb.
I don't really know, to be honest.
To put it bluntly, someone is lying.

Connecting sentences

Sentence connectors are used to show what sort of connection there is between one sentence and another.

Indicating an addition

In the course of speaking or writing, you can introduce a related comment or an extra supporting piece of information using one of the following adverbials:
  • also
  • as well
  • at the same time
  • besides
  • furthermore
  • moreover
  • on top of that
  • too
I cannot apologize for his comments. Besides, I agree with them.
Moreover, new reserves continue to be discovered.
His first book was published in 1932, and it was followed by a series of novels. He also wrote a book on British poetry.

Indicating a similar point

You can show that you are adding a fact that illustrates the same point by using one of the following adverbials:
  • again
  • by the same token
  • equally
  • in the same way
  • likewise
  • similarly
Every baby's face is different from every other's. In the same way, every baby's pattern of development is different.
Never feed your rabbit raw potatoes that have gone green – they contain a poison. Similarly, never feed it rhubarb leaves.

Contrasts and alternatives

When you want to add a sentence that contrasts with the previous one or gives another point of view, you can use one of the following adverbials:
  • all the same
  • alternatively
  • by contrast
  • conversely
  • even so
  • however
  • instead
  • nevertheless
  • nonetheless
  • on the contrary
  • on the other hand
  • rather
  • still
  • then again
  • though
  • yet
I had forgotten that there was a rainy season in the winter months. It was, however, a fine, soft rain and the air was warm.
Her aim is to punish the criminal. Nevertheless, she is not convinced that imprisonment is always the answer.
Her children are very tiring. She never loses her temper with them though.

Causes

When you want to say that the fact you are mentioning exists because of the fact or facts previously given, you link your statements using one of the following adverbs:
  • accordingly
  • as a result
  • consequently
  • hence
  • so
  • thereby
  • therefore
  • thus
It isn't giving any detailed information. Therefore it isn't necessary.
We want a diverse press and we haven't got it. I think as a result a lot of options are closed to us.

Putting points in order

In formal writing and speech, people often want to say what stage they have reached in writing or speaking. They do this using the following sentence connectors:
  • first
  • firstly
  • second
  • secondly
  • third
  • thirdly
  • finally
  • in conclusion
  • lastly
  • then
  • to sum up
What are the advantages of geothermal energy? Firstly, there's no fuel required, the energy already exists. Secondly, there's plenty of it.
Finally, I want to say something about the heat pump.

Linking parts of a conversation together

Sometimes people want to avoid abruptness when they are changing the topic of conversation, or when they are starting to talk about a different aspect of it. They do this by using a particular group of sentence connectors.
The following adverbials are commonly used in this way:
  • actually
  • anyhow
  • anyway
  • by the way
  • incidentally
  • look
  • now
  • now then
  • okay
  • right
  • so
  • then
  • well
  • well now
  • well then
  • you know
Here are some examples showing sentence connectors being used to change the topic of a conversation:
Actually, Dan, before I forget, she asked me to tell you about my new job.
Well now, we've got a very big task ahead of us.
Here are some examples showing sentence connectors being used to start talking about a different aspect of the same topic:
What do you sell there anyway?
This approach, incidentally, also has the advantage of being cheap.
Some sentence connectors are used at the beginning of a clause to introduce a fact, often one that corrects the statement just made. They can also be used at the end of a clause, and elsewhere, to emphasize the fact.
  • actually
  • as a matter of fact
  • as it happens
  • I mean
  • indeed
  • in fact
Note that `actually' is used here to add information on the same topic, whereas in the previous paragraph it indicated a change of topic.
Actually, I do know why he wrote that letter.
I'm sure you're right. In fact, I know you're right.
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