Discourse Markers

Levelling up in discourse management and other Cambridge assessment criteria by improving English proficiency

There is one important feature that clearly differentiate the B2 First level from the ones above, which are C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency. It refers to how coherence and cohesion are achieved by means of cohesive devices and especially discourse markers. A wide range of such is a decisive factor, since it determines whether the candidate has reached a high proficient level in English. In terms of the speaking assessment scale and its five speaking criteria, which are Grammatical Resource, Lexical Resource, Discourse Management, Pronunciation, and Interactive Communication, the Discourse Management is the one that assesses the use of discourse markers and shows which band from 3 to 5 the candidate has performed at. 

What are discourse markers?

They are words and phrases that add meaning to the interaction and provide cohesion by unifying and organizing our spoken and written expression. As from but (A1), so (A2), despite (B1), admittedly (B2) to accidentally or as it (so) happens (C1), the list looks endless.

What is the purpose of discourse markers?

They connect sentences (LINKING ADVERBIALS) and show our attitude to what we are saying or writing (ATTITUDE ADVERBIALS).

Where are discourse markers placed?

They are used immediately before a point is made. They frequently appear at the beginning of a sentence and are followed by a comma. Occasionally, they can also be placed at the end of the utterance. 

Today, you will learn advanced discourse markers by a practical approach to their usage. Besides, you will see where in the Cambridge exam, besides the speaking paper, discourse markers play a key role. 

Start off by paying particular attention to how the below-listed discourse markers are used in context. Look them up in the dictionary to make sure you understand their meaning. You wouldn’t like to lose any single point because of them in the Cambridge exam, would you? So, don’t miss out on these hands-on activities.

Activity ONE

Classify the discourse markers below according to their function.

What is more, incidentally, as a result, in addition to this, all in all, conversely, by contrast, even though, in other words, likewise, what’s more, having said that, for this reason, as a matter of fact, (but) even so, as well as this, as it so happens, accordingly, nevertheless, I mean, after all, whereas, by and large, on account of (this), moreover, regardless (of), in general

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Activity TWO

Match the discourse markers with their synonyms.

e.g. incidentally  –  apropos, by the way

  1. Incidentally
  2. Apparently
  3. Surely
  4. admittedly
  5. Even so
  6. Obviously
  7. After all
  8. Quite frankly
  9. In other words
  10. All in all
  11. As a matter of fact
  12. Actually
  13. (but) having said that
  14. Regardless (of)
  15. Accordingly
  16. On account of
  17. Likewise
  18. Moreover
  • Seemingly
  • In truth
  • Besides 
  • However
  • Of course, clearly
  • That is (to say)
  • On the contrary
  • On the whole
  • Similarly
  • Without doubt
  • Apropos, by the way 
  • In fact
  • Despite
  • Therefore
  • Because of, due to
  • Although this is true 
  • Despite earlier problems
  • Quite honestly

Download the PDF below with the first two activities. Access the answers at the end of the article.

Which parts of the Cambridge exam are adverbials found or tested?

  • Reading and Use of English paper

In part 1, the multiple-choice cloze task, as you already know, the four given options to complete each of the eight gaps from a short text are either similar words or, together with the words before and after the gap (e.g. a preposition), must form a grammatical collocation. For this very reason, you must be familiar with the grammar structures used after some discourse markers, e.g. in addition to and on account of are followed by a noun or the gerund for of the verb, as well as the preposition that follows some adverbials, like regardless of.

The long written texts, instead, frequently test how well you comprehend the author’s opinion and attitude. Take for instance Part 5, 6 and 8. In Part 7 though, the one I call “The Puzzle”, among other important features like text coherence and global meaning, we must watch out for the word(s) after the gap. Aren’t we looking for the tone of the colour in a piece of a puzzle to match the whole pattern? 

Activity THREE

Which part, A, B, or C, would you choose to complete this text? 

“On my living-room wall I have a painting of a wildcat by John Holmes, of which I am extremely fond. It depicts a snarling, spitting animal, teeth bared and back arched: a taut coiled spring ready to unleash some unknown fury.

? ______

However, the physical differences are tangible. The wildcat is a much larger animal, weighing in some cases up to seven kilos, the same as a typical male fox. The coat pattern is superficially similar to a domestic tabby cat, but it is all stripes and no spots. The tail is thicker and blunter, with three to five black rings. The animal has an altogether heavier look.”

(extract from the text “Scottish Wildcat”, taken from the Cambridge English Advanced Handbook, Reading and Use of English paper, part 7)

A. They probably used deciduous and coniferous woodland for shelter, particularly in winter, and hunted over more open areas such as forest edge, open woodland, thickets and scrub, grassy areas and marsh. The wildcat was probably driven into more mountainous areas by a combination of deforestation and persecution.

B. It is a typical image most folk have of the beast, but it is very much a false one, for the wildcat is little more than a bigger version of the domestic cat, and probably shows his anger as often.

C. As the animals emerge, their curiosity is aroused by every movement and rustle in the vegetation. Later they will accompany their mother on hunting trips, learning quickly, and soon become adept hunters themselves.

As you see, for a complete understanding, adverbials like however are essential clues and keywords to look out for in Reading and Use of English Part 7. Besides, the key word transformation task in Part 4 could also test how knowledgeable you are about the use of discourse markers. Try one last question:

Since that store sells clothes made by child labour in overseas countries, I decided not to purchase anything there.


I decided not to purchase anything in that store, …………………………………. they sell clothes made by child labour in overseas countries.


Let’s go back to our last question, what other parts of the Cambridge examinations are the discourse markers an important part of?

  • Writing paper

Discourse markers link sentences, right? In text types like essays, proposals and reports, their presence is a must.

  • Listening paper

This one, besides testing the candidates’ understanding of gist, detail, function, agreement and course of action, also tests the speaker’s feelings, purpose, attitudes and opinions. Take for example Part 3, which is either a broadcast interview or discussion. Its six 4-option multiple-choice questions focus on the attitude and opinion of speakers, both stated and implied. Part 4, with its series of five monologues and two tasks, centres around attitudes, feelings and opinions, or the speakers’ purpose, likewise. Identifying discourse markers is key to better comprehension, and thus to a better score.

Compare your answers to the first two activities with the ones in the PDF below. 

In a nutshell, there are a lot of sophisticated, advanced level discourse markers. So that you fully use them in oral and written expression, first, you need to know their meaning and function. Likewise, in order to use the ones you find complicated but worth taming., write your own sentences. What’s more, identify discourse markers in written texts, like articles, novels, as well as audio ones, like movies and podcasts. By taking into consideration these learning tips, your English proficiency is definitely going to come on in leaps and bounds.

Stay tuned for more words of advice and handy material!

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