A conjunctive adverb connects two independent clauses (see clauses and complex sentences).

When used correctly, conjunctive adverbs help to improve the complexity of grammar in an essay, and also improve coherence and cohesion scores by connecting ideas. However, not all conjunctive adverbs are appropriate for IELTS, and some are commonly misused by test-takers.

The list below shows conjunctive adverbs that work well in IELTS essays. They have been categorised by their function.

These conjunctive adverbs can connect independent clauses in the following ways:

Across paragraphs

…This evidence suggests that many tasks can be done from home that previously would have been done face-to-face. The result is a lot less wasted time, and as a consequence a more efficient society.

Furthermore, distance communication is extremely beneficial for the environment. The aforementioned reduction in travel time also has a positive effect on the environment.

Across sentences

Many newspapers claimed the problem had been ignored. However, there were serious attempts to solve the issue.

Across clauses in the same sentence

Many newspapers claimed the problem had been ignored; however, there were serious attempts to solve the issue.

Again, conjunctive adverbs connect independent clauses (clauses that makes sense when on their own) which makes their use different from subordinating conjunctions such as although. In fact, conjunctive adverbs are more similar to coordinating conjunctions such as ‘and, but and so’ but there are four important differences:

1. Conjunctive adverbs like to be first.

Conjunctive adverbs work very well at the beginning of a sentence.

It is wrong to deny healthcare to convicted criminals. However, some restrictions are justified.  ✔︎

In contrast, most coordinating conjunctions do not work well in the first position.

It is wrong to deny healthcare to convicted criminals. But, some restrictions are justified.  ✘

2. Conjunctive adverbs like to follow a semi-colon.

When using a conjunctive adverb to connect two independent clauses in the same sentence, a semi-colon (;) separates the clauses.

It is wrong to deny healthcare to convicted criminals; however, some restrictions are justified. ✔︎

(Note how a comma is used after the conjunctive adverb.)

In contrast, for a coordinating conjunction a comma is used before (but no comma after).

It is wrong to deny healthcare to convicted criminals, but some restrictions are justified. ✔︎

3. Some conjunctive adverbs can jump between the subject and the verb.

It is wrong to deny healthcare to convicted criminals; some restrictions, however, are justified. ✔︎

(Note how a comma is used before and after the conjunctive adverb.)

In contrast, coordinating conjunctions cannot be used in this position.

It is wrong to deny healthcare to convicted criminals; some restrictions, but, are justified. ✘

This position of the conjunctive adverb is common in formal writing. Below are some more examples:

Many newspapers claimed the problem had been ignored; there were, however, serious attempts to solve the issue. ✔︎
Governments need to agree to the recommendations of climate scientists; they should, in fact, do even more. ✔︎
Most students are well-aware that a lack of sleep is likely to lead to poor academic performance; the vast majority, nevertheless, do not abide by strict bedtimes. ✔︎

4. Many conjunctive adverbs can be used at the end of a clause.

This position is common at the end of a paragraph, especially when used in a transition sentence that connects to the following paragraph.

It is wrong to deny healthcare to convicted criminals; some restrictions are justified however. ✔︎

Coordinating conjunctions cannot be used in this position.

It is wrong to deny healthcare to convicted criminals; some restrictions are justified but. ✘

Conjunctive adverbs play a very useful role in essay development and cohesion but should not be overused. They can be extremely useful to develop the evidence in a paragraph, as well as to move from one paragraph to the next. For example:

Top British universities were found to have very low levels of ethnic diversity, which led to calls for government action. Consequently, most of these institutions introduced measures to address this problem; it is, nevertheless, far from resolved. 

Conjunctive adverbs are a common cause of stylistic and grammatical errors. For this reason, the following list is provided with suggestions about appropriate use.

Conjunctive adverbs to avoid in IELTS writing 

  • besides
  • undoubtedly
  • anyway
  • otherwise
  • incidentally


A common error in IELTS writing involves the use of ‘besides’ as a conjunctive adverb. 

Besides is a very difficult word to use correctly in English, and consistently leads to errors. IELTS examiners will tell you that the word is rarely used correctly. Furthermore, besides is generally more common in informal English.  

Many test-takers believe ‘besides’ to be similar in meaning to ‘in addition’ as shown below.

Cars cause a lot of pollution that affects the health of people in urban areas. Besides, cars are noisy so they also cause noise pollution.

However, this usage is not, in fact, correct. Besides is used to finish an argument by adding an additional opinion or rhetorical statement. This is difficult to get right; the example below shows the correct usage:  

We should all stop driving cars because they are polluting the environment and making all of our children sick. Besides, I don’t like the traffic noise.

Although this appears to mean ‘in addition’ in fact it means something like ‘also there is another less important consequence that I am just mentioning’.

There are other uses, but all are equally complicated. It is easier for test-takers to use ‘in addition / also / apart from that / additionally etc.’ which are far less likely to cause errors. 

Further information about the misuse of besides can be found in this study (recommended for teachers): 

Yeung, Lorrita. (2009). Use and misuse of ‘besides’: A corpus study comparing native speakers’ and learners’ English. System. 37. 330-342.

Conjunctive adverbs to use with caution in IELTS writing

  • hence
  • thus
  • meanwhile
  • moreover
  • yet
  • thereafter

The bold adverbs most certainly can be used in IELTS writing, but test-takers should be aware that they are very formal and often sound antiquated. This can be a problem if the writer has not fully mastered a formal style throughout the essay. There is nothing to be gained by using these adverbs instead of more common alternatives, such as those listed below:

  • hence – for that reason
  • thus – therefore
  • yet – however
  • thereafter – after that / later

Additional conjunctive adverbs

These remaining conjunctive adverbs often require some skill to use correctly. Use with caution.

A few conjunctive adverbs work well directly after a coordinating conjunction when combining clauses in a sentence. Some examples are shown below:

and/but instead - The authorities should stop forcing children to learn English, and instead focus on protecting local languages that are in decline.
but nevertheless - The old system had its flaws, but nevertheless it was preferable to the new one.
but nonetheless - The change was implemented too early, but nonetheless it was ultimately successful. 
and therefore - The hospital’s decision to cut funding led to a decrease in available doctors, and therefore a reduction in contact hours with patients. 
but/or/and conversely - Most parents appear to believe schools should increase the amount of homework, but, conversely, teachers are in favour of a reduction. 
but also - Investment should increase not only because commuters need faster trains, but also to help lower congestion.
and yet - Many workers in developing countries work very long hours, and yet are paid very little.

Further examples (with usage comments)

Nevertheless and nonetheless are both used to give concession (i.e. to show that even though something contrasting is true, something else is also true) —— alternative: still

There is little chance that we will succeed in changing the law. Nevertheless, it is important that we try.
Our defeat was expected, but it is disappointing nevertheless.
While the film is undoubtedly too long, it is nevertheless an intriguing piece of cinema.
It can be argued that the movie is too long. It is nonetheless an intriguing piece of cinema

Moreover is used to add an additional point that adds or supports the previous idea. —— alternatives: in addition – furthermore

His claim that children find bilingual education confusing is based on very little evidence. Moreover, the evidence he does provide is seriously flawed
Studies suggest that bilingual children find it easier to learn additional languages. There is, moreover, increasing evidence that bilingual children perform better across a range of school subjects, not just foreign languages
Many test-takers choose to use the informal ‘what’s more’ which is not appropriate for IELTS or formal writing.

Meanwhile can be used either to show that two events happened at the same time, or to compare two aspects of the same situation. The former is more common which can lead to some confusion, so use ‘meanwhile’ sparingly.

The British government spent five years deciding whether to build a high-speed train from London to Edinburgh. The Chinese, meanwhile, built a rail network that spanned the entire country.
Stress can be negatively affect a students ability to learn. Exercise, meanwhile, has been shown to increase learning capacity.

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