Writing French Essays Phrases That Kill

Choppy French is a recipe for disaster.

Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad…

But nobody wants their French to sound choppy, right?

Luckily, the French language has quite the catalog of transition words to help hold it all together.

And let me tell you, the French love their transition words!

Not only do they keep you from sounding robotic, but they’re also the key to writing effective essays, understanding the literature you’re reading and improving (never stop!) your comprehension and conversation.

They may be little words, and you could ignore them and get the bare gist of things anyway, but you’re not that kind of learner, now, are you?

Let’s get to it and start adding these key ingredients to our nouns, verbs and adjectives.


How to Integrate French Transition Words into Your Diet

Get your feet wet with quizzes

How much do you really know about these words, anyway? Gauging your knowledge with a few quizzes before you delve into any topic is always a good idea. You may even get a little confidence boost when you realize that you already know a sizable handful of transition words!

If your knowledge is looking kind of rough, make sure to study away using the methods below.

Extract transition words from your reading

Transition words are sprinkled all over your French texts (you’re doing your reading, right?). In order to fully understand what you’re reading, knowing transition words is the final frontier. The clarity will be unreal! With this in mind, use the words around transition words to try and guess from context if you’re unsure. If you still aren’t positive as to what a word means, highlight it for later and look it up in one of your French dictionaries.

You’ll find these fun tie-in words in every type of French literature, from children’s books to young adult fiction to classic literary masterpieces. Once you know the bulk of them, you can revel in the wonderful feeling of understanding that much more French text.

Write your own beautiful sentences

I didn’t want to say it, but here it is…practice makes perfect, guys. So get out your pens and paper, and start on those French sentences! Try writing a paragraph that uses four or five transition words.

If you’re more into immersion-based learning, make sure to include appropriate transition words when writing emails to your pen pals, writing entries in your French journal or even in text messages with another French-speaking friend. You’ll sound oh-so-sophisticated.

Use transition words with the subjunctive

The subjunctive is nothing to fear, but sometimes it can be difficult to integrate into the French you actually use. The tendency of some learners is to avoid it (we’ve all been there). Lucky for you, I’ve noted which of the transitional words and phrases below take the subjunctive. It shall be ignored no longer! This will give you some French to use right away while practicing both your transitions and the subjunctive.

If you’re still a beginner, no worries here. Many of these words and phrases don’t require the subjunctive mood. On the other hand, you always could take the opportunity to learn about this ultra-useful and fun French staple.

Tying It All Together: 23 Transition Words for Seamless French

1. D’abord

Translation: First of all

D’abord, il faut réchauffer le four. (First of all, you must preheat the oven.)

When you think “transition word,” this may be what you’re thinking. To start with the basics, here’s one of the first transition words you likely learned in French class. It’s best at the beginning of sentences, when giving directions or when recounting a series of events.

Subjunctive-friendly? Nah.

2. Ensuite

Translation: Next

Ensuite, je prépare la tarte aux cerises. (Next, I prepare the cherry pie.)

An easy way to remember this one (yet another in the series of your basic transition words), is that la suiteis the sequel or “the next one” in French. It’s a useful piece of vocab when delving into French book series and films, and this transition word is obviously useful for continuing a series of events or directions you may be giving.

Subjunctive-friendly? Nuh-uh.

3. Puis

Translation: Then

Puis, je coupe les pêches. (Then, I cut the peaches.)

Then, you’ve got puisIf you’re unfamiliar with this one, just know that it’ll come up a lot in literature and conversation. It’s a very useful transition word to have under your belt. Puis proves to be a good fallback word to have when some of the more specific transition words slip your mind.

Subjunctive-friendly? Not this one, either.

4. Enfin

Translation: Finally

Enfin, on mange tout. (Finally, we eat everything.)

In our d’abord, ensuite, puis sequence, we end with enfinThis useful word is not only used as a transition to mark la fin(the end) of something, but is also an interjection—a filler word, if you will. It can mean “well,” “all in all,” “I mean” or “at least.” It’s a multi-edged sword. Use it as a transition to an end or to make your conversational French more authentic.

Subjunctive-friendly? Pas du tout (not at all).

5. Ainsi que

Translation: As well as

Je voudrais une tarte aux pommes ainsi que deux boules de glace. (I would like apple pie as well as two scoops of ice cream.)

Getting into some more advanced vocabulary now, this means “just as.” This conjunction is useful when elaborating on something you’re already discussing. It can also be used with a different meaning of “just as,” as in “It went just as I thought.”

Subjunctive-friendly? Nope!

6. Après que

Translation: After/when

Je vais dormir après que je mange toute cette tarte. (I’m going to sleep after I eat all this pie.)

Bet you’re wondering what the difference is between après queand that old favorite après. Après is a preposition, and après que is a compound conjunction. All that means is you use the latter when it’s followed by a verb (like in the example). If you wanted to start a sentence with “after,” then you would use the preposition:

Après, on va partir. (After, we’re going to leave.)

Remember that the quehelps link the clauses, and you should be good to link the night away.

Subjunctive-friendly? Technically, no, but French speakers tend to use the subjunctive after it regardless. So go ahead and get the extra practice.

7. Avant que

Translation: Before

Je vais finir la tarte avant que je nettoie la cuisine. (I’m going to finish the pie before I clean the kitchen.)

Similar to après que, this conjunction is not to be confused with its definition without que. The same distinction can be made—avantbeing the preposition in this case and avant quethe compound conjunction.

Subjunctive-friendly? Yes, and don’t you forget it!

8. Bien que 

Translation: Although/even though

Il m’a donné une tarte aux pêches bien que j’aie commandé une tarte aux pommes ! (He gave me peach pie even though I ordered an apple pie!)

Careful not translate this one to “good that.” This conjunctive phrase is great for showing contrast and adding “conditions” to things, even though you have to know your subjunctive to use it.

Subjunctive-friendly? Oh, most definitely.

9. Dès que

Translation: As soon as

Dès que la tarte arrive, je vais la détruire. (As soon as the pie arrives, I will destroy it.)

This is usually followed by not the subjunctive, but by a future tense! Makes sense considering the context. This is a great conjunctive phrase to use when making threats, lofty goals and uncertain plans. Très useful.

Subjunctive-friendly? Never, ever.

10. Parce que/car

Translation: Because

J’aime les tartes plus que les gâteaux parce que (car) la croûte est magnifique. (I like pies more than cakes because the crust is magnificent.)

You’re likely familiar with parce queand maybe less so with carThere are some slight distinctions to keep in mind for you nit-picky French speakers out there: Car leans slightly more towards “since” or “for.” Parce que is a little stronger when used in speech. They both mean essentially the same thing, but it’s good to know both of them to add variety to your French conversation.

Subjunctive-friendly? No.

11. Pour que

Translation: So that

Je fais une tarte pour que tu aies quelque chose à manger ce soir. (I’m making a pie so that you have something to eat tonight.)

Oh, isn’t it great when such a useful conjunction takes the subjunctive? Well, sure it is! That’s how you get practice. Pourmeans for, but for translation purposes, “so that”makes more sense when using this phrase.

Subjunctive-friendly? You better believe it!

12. Quoi que

Translation: No matter what

Quoi que ma mère fasse en cuisine, c’est délicieux. (No matter what my mom makes in the kitchen, it’s delicious.)

I bet your mind is reeling with how much better your French will sound once you get this one down. No matter what the medium is, it’s useful. But you may be noticing an interesting trend: A word that you’re well-versed in (bien, quoi, pour), whenadded to our favorite little word que, can bring out a completely different definition. Keep this in your mental notebook when you read these phrases or hear them spoken!

Subjunctive-friendly? Yes…yet again!

13. Tant que

Translation: As long as

Tant que cette tarte est là, je serai tenté de la manger. (As long as this pie is here, I will be tempted to eat it.)

What’s tantmean anyway? Funny you should ask, because this here is yet another example of fun words being transformed by their trusty sidekick que. Tant by itself means “so much or many,” or can be used to express an indefinite quantity. If you apply that definition back to this transitional phrase, then you can see something of a rough translation that matches “as long as.” But as long as you remember the definition, you’ll be good to go.

Subjunctive-friendly? No, you’re safe on this one.

14. Comme/puisque

Translation: Since

Comme j’ai mangé trop de tarte, je ne peux pas manger mes légumes. (Since I ate too much of the pie, I can’t eat my vegetables.)

Puisque je l’ai fait, je goûte en premier. (Since I made it, I’ll taste [it] first.)

Even though the definition is the same on these two, there is a slight distinction. Comme is useful for showing both the cause and result in a sentence, whereas puisque just gives an explanation. Comme also likes to hang around at the beginning of sentences, whereas puisque can go in the middle if it so pleases. This distinction will help you sound extra-super pro!

Subjunctive-friendly? No and no.

15. Lorsque/quand

Translation: When

Je cuisinais quand/lorsquetu es arrivé. (I was cooking when you arrived.)

These are interchangeable when talking about time, though lorsque is a formal upgrade of quand. Gauge the situation when you pick. They both have their own special purpose as well: Quand can mean “whenever,” and lorsque can mean “whereas.”

Subjunctive-friendly? Sadly, no.

16. Quoique

Translation: Even though

Je mangerai une autre tranche quoique je n’aie pas faim. (I will eat another slice even though I’m not hungry.)

Okay, I’ll admit…it does get a bit confusing here. We just did quoi que, meaning “no matter what,”and now we’ve got the same thing minus the space in between and all of a sudden it means “even though”? These sound the same when spoken, but you should be able to figure it out based on the context. In addition, bien queand quoique can be used interchangeably. Just another opportunity for you to diversify.

Subjunctive-friendly? You better believe it.

17. Donc

Translation: So

Je veux que tu la goûtes, donc je garde une part. (I want for you to taste it, so I’m saving a piece.)

There is so much to say about this little word. Doncis one of the holy grails of French filler words, one of the little idiosyncrasies of French speech that you’ll pick up while in France and carry with you, smiling, forever. They use it both in the “correct” fashion, showing causation, as well as how we use it in English: “So, here’s the thing.” “So, I was heading to the store.” “So… So… So…” Remember donc. Cherish it. Can you tell this is my favorite French transition word?

Subjunctive-friendly? Not even close.

18. En fait

Translation: In fact

En fait, l’année dernière j’ai gagné une competition. (In fact, last year I won a competition.)

You have no excuses for not remembering this one. It’s spelt and sounds similar to the English definition. Use this phrase before emphasizing an important conclusion or key point.

Subjunctive-friendly? No.

19. Cependant

Translation: However, nonetheless

Cependant, j’aime un bon gâteau de temps en temps. (However, I enjoy a nice cake from time to time.)

Cependantis actually an adverb, but it still functions as a transition word. Use it at the beginning of a sentence to point out an opposition or contradiction. Pourtantis a close cousin, but it’s a little more nuanced, as it indicates that one thing happened when another one was expected to.

Subjunctive-friendly? No! No!

20. En revanche/par contre

Translation: On the other hand, in opposition

Une tarte aux pommes est classique. Par contre, une tarte aux tomates est bonne pour le petit-déjeuner, le déjeuner et le dîner. (An apple pie is classic. On the other hand, a tomato pie is good for breakfast, lunch and dinner.)

The definition is close to cependant, but provides a little clearer contrast. Those make for two great transition words when you’re writing essays in French or can’t decide which type of pie is better.

Subjunctive-friendly? Mais non ! 

21. En plus/en outre

Translation: Also

En outre, il faut choisir un bon parfum de glace pour accompagner la tarte. (Also, one must choose a good ice cream flavor to go with the pie.)

Need to add something that you forgot before? These two are good ways to vary your language and avoid using aussi (also) at every turn. En plusis common in conversation, and it, as well as en outreis often a better alternative to aussi in written French.

Subjunctive-friendly? Jamais (never).

22. Pour ma part/pour moi

Translation: For me

Pour moi/ma part, je préfère la tarte au citron. (For me, I prefer lemon pie.)

Here are two phrases to use when you want to put emphasis on “me! me! me!” Pour moiis a good way to order at a restaurant, and pour ma partis best for stating opinions.

Subjunctive-friendly? Stop asking. It’s another “no.”

23. À mon avis

Translation: In my opinion

À mon avis, tous ces phrases sont ridicules ! (In my opinion, all of these sentences are ridiculous!)

But when you really want to make it all about you and your opinions, this is the best phrase. To qualify a statement as an opinion, or before you go on a rant about something you’re passionate about, this is a great transitional phrase to use and abuse!

Subjunctive-friendly? This is the last time I’m saying it…nope.


Enfin, you’re well-equipped to speak like a pro, write like an essayist and understand all the details in the French literature you’re devouring.

While there are far more transition words than those listed, knowing the basics will do wonders for your fluency.

Choppy French no more!


And One More Thing…

If you like learning French with fun, authentic material, then you’ve got to try FluentU.

FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks. Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken in modern life.

One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:

Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions will guide you along the way, so you’ll never miss a word.

Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:

Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”

As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience. 

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.

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Some classic questions from previous years…

Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
—Inspired by Drew Donaldson, AB'16

Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal. Sure, some people think of the University of Chicago as a portal to their future, but please choose another portal to write about.
—Inspired by Raphael Hallerman, Class of 2020

What's so odd about odd numbers?
–Inspired by Mario Rosasco, AB'09

Vestigiality refers to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function, but have been retained during the process of evolution. In humans, for instance, the appendix is thought to be a vestigial structure. Describe something vestigial (real or imagined) and provide an explanation for its existence.
—Inspired by Tiffany Kim, Class of 2020

In French, there is no difference between "conscience" and "consciousness." In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen” encapsulates the feeling you get when you’re embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.
– Inspired by Emily Driscoll, Class of 2018

Little pigs, French hens, a family of bears. Blind mice, musketeers, the Fates. Parts of an atom, laws of thought, a guideline for composition. Omne trium perfectum? Create your own group of threes, and describe why and how they fit together.
– Inspired by Zilin Cui, Class of 2018

The mantis shrimp can perceive both polarized light and multispectral images; they have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Human eyes have color receptors for three colors (red, green, and blue); the mantis shrimp has receptors for sixteen types of color, enabling them to see a spectrum far beyond the capacity of the human brain. Seriously, how cool is the mantis shrimp: mantisshrimp.uchicago.edu What might they be able to see that we cannot? What are we missing?
–Inspired by Tess Moran, AB'16

How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.
–Inspired by Florence Chan, AB'15

The ball is in your court—a penny for your thoughts, but say it, don’t spray it. So long as you don’t bite off more than you can chew, beat around the bush, or cut corners, writing this essay should be a piece of cake. Create your own idiom, and tell us its origin—you know, the whole nine yards. PS: A picture is worth a thousand words.
—Inspired by April Bell, Class of 2017, and Maya Shaked, Class of 2018 (It takes two to tango.)

"A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies." –Oscar Wilde. Othello and Iago. Dorothy and the Wicked Witch. Autobots and Decepticons. History and art are full of heroes and their enemies. Tell us about the relationship between you and your arch-nemesis (either real or imagined).
–Inspired by Martin Krzywy, AB'16.

Heisenberg claims that you cannot know both the position and momentum of an electron with total certainty. Choose two other concepts that cannot be known simultaneously and discuss the implications. (Do not consider yourself limited to the field of physics).
–Inspired by Doran Bennett, BS'07

Susan Sontag, AB'51, wrote that "[s]ilence remains, inescapably, a form of speech." Write about an issue or a situation when you remained silent, and explain how silence may speak in ways that you did or did not intend. The Aesthetics of Silence, 1967.
–Anonymous submission

"…I [was] eager to escape backward again, to be off to invent a past for the present." –The Rose Rabbi by Daniel Stern
Present: pres·ent
1. Something that is offered, presented, or given as a gift.
Let's stick with this definition. Unusual presents, accidental presents, metaphorical presents, re-gifted presents, etc. — pick any present you have ever received and invent a past for it.
—Inspired by Jennifer Qin, AB'16

So where is Waldo, really?
–Inspired by Robin Ye, AB'16

Find x.
–Inspired by Benjamin Nuzzo, an admitted student from Eton College, UK

Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?
–Inspired by an alumna of the Class of 2006

How did you get caught? (Or not caught, as the case may be.)
–Proposed by Kelly Kennedy, AB'10

Chicago author Nelson Algren said, "A writer does well if in his whole life he can tell the story of one street." Chicagoans, but not just Chicagoans, have always found something instructive, and pleasing, and profound in the stories of their block, of Main Street, of Highway 61, of a farm lane, of the Celestial Highway. Tell us the story of a street, path, road—real or imagined or metaphorical. 
–Anonymous submission

UChicago professor W. J. T. Mitchell entitled his 2005 book What Do Pictures Want? Describe a picture, and explore what it wants.
–Inspired by Anna Andel

"Don't play what's there, play what's not there."—Miles Davis (1926–91)
–Inspired by Jack Reeves

University of Chicago alumna and renowned author/critic Susan Sontag said, "The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions." We all have heard serious questions, absurd questions, and seriously absurd questions, some of which cannot be answered without obliterating the very question. Destroy a question with your answer.
–Inspired by Aleksandra Ciric

"Mind that does not stick."
–Zen Master Shoitsu (1202–80)

Superstring theory has revolutionized speculation about the physical world by suggesting that strings play a pivotal role in the universe. Strings, however, always have explained or enriched our lives, from Theseus's escape route from the Labyrinth, to kittens playing with balls of yarn, to the single hair that held the sword above Damocles, to the Old Norse tradition that one's life is a thread woven into a tapestry of fate, to the beautiful sounds of the finely tuned string of a violin, to the children's game of cat's cradle, to the concept of stringing someone along. Use the power of string to explain the biggest or the smallest phenomenon.
–Inspired by Adam Sobolweski

Have you ever walked through the aisles of a warehouse store like Costco or Sam's Club and wondered who would buy a jar of mustard a foot and a half tall? We've bought it, but it didn't stop us from wondering about other things, like absurd eating contests, impulse buys, excess, unimagined uses for mustard, storage, preservatives, notions of bigness…and dozens of other ideas both silly and serious. Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard.
–Inspired by Katherine Gold

People often think of language as a connector, something that brings people together by helping them share experiences, feelings, ideas, etc. We, however, are interested in how language sets people apart. Start with the peculiarities of your own personal language—the voice you use when speaking most intimately to yourself, the vocabulary that spills out when you're startled, or special phrases and gestures that no one else seems to use or even understand—and tell us how your language makes you unique. You may want to think about subtle riffs or idiosyncrasies based on cadence, rhythm, rhyme, or (mis)pronunciation.
–Inspired by Kimberly Traube


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