The use of transitions is frequently tested on the ACT English and Reading tests.  Transition words and expressions are bridges that combine sentences or parts of sentences.  Not only must they be punctuated correctly, but transitions must convey the correct meaning in a sentence.


Transitions are often used as introductory phrases before an independent clause.  In that usage, a comma follows the transition word or statement.  Within a sentence, a transition is usually set off by commas.

Meanings of Transitions

Students need to know the meanings of various transitions statements to answer questions on the ACT English and Reading tests.  The ACT (and SAT) use these questions to test the student’s understanding and use of language

Transitions can be used for many purposes:

  • Set up a comparison or contrast between statements.
  • Introduce an example
  • Add information
  • Show the passage of time
  • Show cause and effect

The following transitions have appeared in recent test questions:  however, eventually, for example, subsequently, regardless, in fact, on the contrary, ordinarily, and namely.

On the ACT English test, students are frequently given a choice of transition statements to use either as an introductory word or within a sentence.  The key is to understand the author’s intention for what comes after the transition.  If the intent is to show contrasting information, transitions such as however, but, or nonetheless are correct.  If the author is moving a passage along in time, words such as while, next, subsequently or then make sense.

Test Examples

Below is an example from an actual test:

This English passage explains innovations McCoy invented to constantly lubricate parts on a moving train.  The paragraph above notes that McCoy invented similar devices and applied them in other industries that used steam engines.   The correct choice here is Choice F.  It introduces steam engines as another example of a situation where McCoy’s ingenuity was valuable.   Choice G incorrectly suggests a passage of time, which is not logical here.  Choice H suggests a contrast, as does Choice J.  However, a contrast is inappropriate here.

On the ACT Reading test, transitions work in a similar manner to logically connect sentences and paragraphs.  In the example below, the reader must identify the meaning of the transition used in the statement on lines 35-36 in order to correctly answer the question.

The key word here is “however,” which alerts the reader to a contrast.  As is often the case in a well-written essay, the final sentence of this paragraph is providing a transition to the next paragraph.  Use of the word “however” signals that what comes next will be a contrast to what has been previously discussed.  The statement is clearly not a summary, which is Choice B.  There is no new term included in the statement, so Choice C is incorrect.  In Choice D, though a counterargument is anticipated by use of the word “however,” nothing is refuted in the statement.  Therefore, Choice A is the obvious correct answer: use of “however” signals to the reader that information in the next paragraph will contrast what has been written previously.

Prepare for the Test

In preparation for the ACT English and Reading tests, students should refresh themselves on transitions and their meanings, and watch for transition statements as signals.  In taking practice tests, students should read a few lines beyond the transition to fully understand the context.  This will help identify the correct transition to use on the English test.  On the Reading test, transitions provide important signals to students to help them understand the text.

Looking for help with ACT test preparation?  Knowledge Edge ACT prep typically includes 10 hours of English and 10 hours of reading preparation.  Those hours are used to review and refresh skills (such as identifying transitions) and include guided practice with one-on-one feedback from a tutor.  Check out our website for more information.