Whereas, despite and nevertheless: ways to link ideas (1)

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by Liz Walter

When we speak and write, it is important to show the link between different statements. For example, do we want to add information, contrast two ideas, or show that one thing is the reason for another? Of course it is possible to use very simple linking words such as and, but and so, but it is useful to have a wider range of linking words, particularly for formal or academic writing.

In this post I will cover some linking words we use to show a contrast between two ideas. The most common are although or even though. Note that they can be used at the beginning of a sentence or between the two parts. When they come at the beginning, the two parts of the sentence must be divided by a comma. When they are in the middle, the comma is optional:

Although it was late, nobody wanted to go home.

We ate all the food, even though we weren’t really hungry.

Whereas can also be used either at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence. When it is at the beginning, it sounds more formal and would normally only be used this way in formal writing. In the middle, it is suitable for normal speech. While is very similar, but sounds slightly formal in either position:

This bike is great for riding around town, whereas the other one is better for mountain biking.

Whereas Green’s conclusions are tentative, Collins goes much further.

David was a very intellectual man, while his brother was more sporty.

Despite and in spite of are used to show that one thing is not prevented by another. Despite can be followed by a noun or a verb but note that the verb must be an -ing form. Do not try to use that after despite – this is a common mistake for learners. An -ing verb is also possible after in spite of, but it is much more common to follow it with a noun.

When despite and in spite of come at the beginning of a sentence, you need a comma between the sentence parts. There is no hard and fast rule when they come in the middle, but if they are followed by a noun, it is most common to omit the comma:

Despite being ill, she managed to finish the work.

She managed to finish the work despite her illness.

In spite of public opposition, the roads were closed.

The tickets sold immediately, in spite of being so expensive.

However and nevertheless are also common linkers that express contrast. They often come at the beginning of the second sentence in a contrasting pair of sentences and are followed by a comma. They can also be used within sentences, often with commas around them. However is a common word, suitable for all occasions, while nevertheless is more formal and suitable for formal or academic writing:

We were in a very difficult situation. However, Jess came up with an idea.

She was full of creative ideas. Most of them, however, were very impractical.

He is currently trailing in the polls. Nevertheless, it would be foolish to write him off.

If you found this post useful, look out for the next one, which will cover linkers for adding extra information, showing the reason for something, and showing things in sequence.

10 thoughts on “Whereas, despite and nevertheless: ways to link ideas (1)

  1. Leandro de Miranda Mauricio

    I’ve like the way you use while to link the two sentences in “…suitable for all occasions, WHILE nevertheless is more formal and…

  2. Praveen Sharda

    It is said ‘despite’ and ‘ in spite of ‘ are interchangeable. However, I believe there must be some subtle difference in use of these two words. Will you kindly elaborate on this?

    1. Rana

      Hi! Some native speakers consider that “in spite of” sounds a bit harsh, so they avoid using it in formal contexts. Apart from this subtle nuance, both linking words are synonymous. Take care!

    2. There IS a subtle difference.

      However I will reflect on some of the grosser and more obvious uses of DESPITE.

      Yes, I would kindly elaborate on it, Praveen.

      For example:

      “Despite their impairment” and “in spite of the obstacles the group faced”.

      Despite seems to refer more to the inside of a person; and in spite means more or less that there was something exterior or external.

      “In spite of” can be more impersonal.

      “Despite” appears to have more redeeming features and can be more neutral if you want to go there/that way.

      I used to hear “in spite of” referred to in regard to “illness” and “injury”.

      And the very first time I read “despite” and understood it was in reference to a fellow student who had had a broken arm.

      1. Alina

        Thanks for your insightful explanation, Ms. Dupont. Linking words are useful and, above all, interesting to learn! 😉

    3. Liz Walter

      They mean the same. There are very slight differences in the patterns of words around them, as explained in the article.

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