Sunday, August 31, 2014

Exploring concession and contrast

In this post we look at the difference between concession and simple contrast, and at the various words and expressions we can use to express concession and contrast. As well as information about these, there are ten exercises to give you plenty of practice in using them.

Words and expressions used to express concession

The Basics

  • although, though, even though
  • despite, in spite of

Getting more advanced

  • while, whilst, whereas
  • nevertheless, however, even so, all the same
  • much as
  • no matter how / what etc
  • however, whatever, whoever etc
  • adjective + as / though
  • but still, but even so, but all the same
  • (and) yet

Even more exotic

  • when, if, albeit
  • may ... but
  • Contrastive emphasis with auxiliaries
We'll also look briefly at 'reducing' concession clauses, at fronting concession clauses and at something called Yes, But arguing.

Introduction - the difference between contrast and concession.

Look at these two sentences
  • Mary prefers coffee, but Peter prefers tea
  • Although Mary usually prefers coffee, today she's drinking tea.
In the first example we have a simple contrast. There's no reason why Peter should prefer coffee just because Mary does.
But in the second example, we have something a little unexpected, something slightly surprising. Because Mary prefers coffee, we might expect her to be drinking coffee today, but no, she's decided to have tea instead.
The second sentence is an example of concession, when something unexpected happens - Mary's drinking tea today - even though we have conceded something else - that is to admit that something else is true - that Mary usually prefers coffee.
Note - with simple contrast, we are usually comparing a similar aspect of two different people, things or situations. With concession, we are often contrasting two different aspects of the same person, thing or situation.

Ex 0 - introductory exercise - Contrast or concession?

Whether something expresses concession or contrast is open to interpretation, so the answers in this first exercise reflect my ideas, not necessarily some golden rule.
1.Sally is blonde, but her sister is brunette.
2.Although Sally originally wanted to become a lawyer, she finally decided on a career in medicine.
3.This plan is fraught with problems. Nevertheless, I think we should go ahead with it.
4.Mark's idea would be quite expensive. Sandy's, however, sounds relatively cheap.
5.In spite of the crisis, this sector of the economy has been doing quite well.
6.The South of England is relatively flat. The North, on the other hand, is much hillier.
7.He's not the greatest conversationalist. Mind you, he is rather good-looking.
8.In Geneva, most people speak French, whereas in Zurich they mainly speak German.
9.Recent sales have been disappointing. However, this month is looking rather better.
10.Much as I trust your judgement, this time In think we'll do it my way.

Contrast clause or concession clause (aka Concessive clause)? A short note.

Look at these two example sentences adapted from a grammar book:
  • Although everyone was tired, they kept going until it got dark.
    (= concession - their action is slightly surprising given their tiredness)
  • Although they accepted some of his recommendations, they rejected others.
    (= contrast - between accepting some recommendation and rejecting others)
Some books for learners would call the first clause in both of these sentences concession clauses. Others would call them both contrast clauses. This particular book calls the first one a concession clause and the second a contrast clause, but not many books make that distinction.
There is not a big difference between contrast and concession, and a lot of the examples we'll be looking at express both concession and contrast to varying degrees. It's an area where even linguists have problems: in one academic paper, the writer calls concession a 'fuzzy' (not clear, confused) concept, so it's not worth getting too worried about the difference.

Section 1 - the basics

1a. Expressing concession with although, though, even though

The usual way of talking about concession is to have a clause starting with although, though and even though, which are are (subordinating) conjunctions (sometimes called subordinators). The concession clause can come before or after the main clause.
  • Although Mary usually prefers coffee, today she's drinking tea.
  • Mary's drinking tea today although she usually prefers coffee.
Although and though are synonymous, but although is probably more common in writing while though is thought to be more informal.
  • Although/though it had started to rain, we decided to go for a walk.
  • He said he'd be on time although/though I doubt it, knowing him.
Even though is stronger and more emphatic than though and although, and is usually stressed when speaking.
  • Even though I knew I shouldn't, I had another of her delicious cakes.
  • They were late even though they had taken a taxi.
Sometimes it only makes sense to use although etc with only one part of the sentence. It must make sense for the main clause to logically follow on from the concession clause:
  • Although I was rather tired, I decided to stay up to see the late movie.
    I was rather tired, although I decided to stay up to see the late movie.
But sometimes you have a choice, depending on your point of view:
  • Although the film was a bit long, it was quite enjoyable.
    Although the film was quite enjoyable, it was a bit long.

Though as an adverb.

Note that we can also use though (but not although and even though) as an adverb, to mean 'however'. In this use it can also come at the end of the sentence
  • That's what she says, but what she really thinks, though, I have no idea.
  • We'd better be going. - We've still got plenty of time, though.
Exercise 1aComplete the sentences
Use although + a sentence from the box, as in the example.
we don't know them very wellwe'd never met before
there was a light on upstairsI really like her
they still lostI've never met him
we live in the countryshe never went to university
we took a taxi
Eg. Although we took a taxi, we were still late.
1. , he sounds really interesting.
2. , life is never dull.
3. Nobody seemed to be at home .
4. We asked them round for dinner .
5. , we clicked immediately.
6. She's very bright .
7. They played really well .
8. , she can be a bit distant sometimes.
1b. Expressing concession with despite, in spite of
These have a similar meaning to although and also express concession. But they are prepositions, so they can be only be followed by:
  • a noun or noun phrase
    In spite of the bad weather, we had a great time
  • a pronoun
    Everything seemed to go wrong, but we had a really good time in spite of it all.
  • an -ing form (gerund) or gerund phrase -
    Despite telling him three times, he still forgot.
If we want to follow them with a full clause (that's to say, subject + verb), we need to add 'the fact that',
  • the fact that + clause
  • In spite of the fact that she was pregnant, she kept working till the last moment.
  • Despite the fact that it was raining, we went for a walk anyway.
But this is rather formal and long-winded, and it's usually better to use although instead:
  • Although she was pregnant, she kept working till the last moment.
  • Although it was raining, we went for a walk anyway.
There is no difference in meaning between despite and in spite of, but some people prefer to use despite in writing, probably because it is shorter. This Ngram graph shows how the use of despite is increasing in popularity in books, both British and American:
Exercise 1bChoose the best option
Click on your preferred option to underline it
1. Although / Despite the rain, it was a great afternoon.
2. We had a great time though / in spite of it rained a bit.
3. She passed her test easily although / despite not doing much revision.
4. Although / Despite the salary wasn't great, she took the job.
5. Although / Despite coming first, she felt she could have done better.
6. Although / In spite of coming first isn't everything, it sure helps.
7. I managed to get tickets although / despite the queue was rather long.
8. I didn't manage to get very good seats although / , though.

Exercise 1c - Convert from although to despite

Rewrite the sections in italics using despite and an -ing form
1. Although he was a director, he didn't play a strong role in the company.
, he didn't play a strong role in the company.
2. She always seemed to be short of cash, although she had plenty of money in the bank.
She always seemed to be short of cash,
3. Although he talked a lot, he didn't often come up with any useful ideas.
, he didn't often come up with any useful ideas.

Rewrite the sections in italics using despite and his/her/its + noun
4. Although she was beautiful, she was quite shy.
, she was quite shy
5. We're going to buy this anyway, although it is expensive.
We're going to buy this anyway,
6. Although he promised to call me back, he never did.
, he never did.

Section 2 - more advanced

2a. While, (whilst) and whereas

The conjunction while is not only used to talk about time.

As a conjunction, while is usually used to talk about a time relationship between two events:
  • He washed up the dishes while she put the children to bed.
  • While he was washing up the dishes, the front doorbell rang.
But while also has two other uses:
1. It can be used to express a contrast, especially when comparing the same aspect of two different people, things or situations, etc. The while-clause can come first or second, but most commonly seems to appear second.
  • Italy is in the south of Europe, while Sweden is in the north.
  • While Sally has blue eyes, her sister has brown ones.
2. We can also use while to express concession, when it can usually be replaced by although. In this meaning the while-clause always comes first. (See note at end).
  • While I understand your point of view, I'm afraid I have to disagree with you.
  • While results have been pretty good so far, we shouldn't get too complacent
Note - We need to make sure when using while for contrast or concession that there isn't any confusion with the time meaning:
  • While Peterson scored the first two goals, the third was headed in by Jennings.
    - This could be ambiguous - were all three goals scored at the same time? So we could either change it slightly:
  • While it was Peterson who scored the first two goals, the third was headed in by Jennings.
    - This makes the sense of contrast, rather than time, clearer. Or we could avoid while altogether:
  • Peterson scored the first two goals and/but the third was headed in by Jennings.


In British English, we occasionally use whilst instead of while, but it is considered rather formal. In American English, whilst is considered old fashioned or pretentious. There is no real need for foreign learners to use it.


To some extent whereas has a similar meaning to while, but is a bit more formal and is more common in written texts. However, its use is more restricted than that of while, in that it must always express a direct contrast between two situations.
Although we can put the whereas / while-clause first or second in this meaning, in the vast majority of examples I've found it comes second (see note at end), when it means something like but or 'when on the other hand'.
  • I believe in the Loch Ness monster, whereas / while my brother doesn't.
  • Whereas / While she likes jazz, I prefer opera.
  • He is quite tall, while / whereas his brother is rather short.
Although whereas is always used to express a direct contrast between two situations, sometimes this contrast can be surprising or unexpected in the context, in which case whereas can also be said to have a concessive function. In these cases the whereas-clause usually comes first.
This seems to be especially true when we contrast something that goes against the norm, against the majority, or against the trend, or when we point out a negative contrast. In these cases, the whereas-clause often comes first:
  • Whereas (While) more than ninety percent of British children go to state schools, a recent study has shown that as many as 50% of the top jobs in the country are held by people who were educated at elite 'independent' (i.e. private) schools.
  • Whereas (While) most of the party's MPs support the government on this issue, a small handful are determined to vote against the party line.
  • Whereas (While) sales have been excellent for most of the summer, for some reason we're not sure about, they declined in August.
  • Whereas (While) most patients recover from this illness fairly quickly, a few develop complications, which can cause the illness to linger.

Comparing although, while and whereas.

1. Although

This is the most versatile of the three: on the one hand it can convey concession with almost no idea of contrast:
  • Although I'd already eaten, I decided to go with some friends for a sushi anyway.
On the other, it can refer to simple contrast with very little idea of concession:
  • Although I get on well with Peter, I don't like his brother very much.

2. While

Although while is usually used for simple contrast, we can often also use it in a very similar way to although. When used with a concessive meaning like this, it should express some sort of contrast, but that contrast can be very soft, and not necessarily comparing two similar things.
  • While/Although we've only known each other a short time, we get on really well.
Brian Garner, in Garner's Modern American Usage, calls while 'a more relaxed and conversational term than although or whereas'.

3. Whereas

Whereas is the most restricted of the three, used to express a strong contrast between two people, things or situations. It can only be used to express concession when this strong contrast also exists:
  • Whereas / While I've only known Mark for a short time, I've known his brother for much longer.
In this sentence, we are directly comparing two similar situations (how long I've known Mark compared with how long I've known his brother), so whereas is possible. There is a slight element of concession in that you might possibly expect me to have known his brother for much the same time as I've known him.
  • While / Whereas we've only known each other a short time, we get on really well.
But in this second sentence, we are talking about concession without any real idea of contrasting, and especially not of contrasting like with like, so whereas wouldn't work here.

4. Summary

  • although - mainly used for concession, with some overlap into contrast.
  • whereas - mainly for strong contrast, with some overlap into concession.
  • while - can usually be used for both concession and contrast.
Concesson Contrast
There isn't a lot of information available about the exact differences in the use of although, while and whereas, so the answers in this exercise reflects my own interpretation of the differences between them. You can read my comments after you've done the exercise.
Exercise 2Choose the word that fits best by clicking on it. Sometimes both answers are possible, so try and decide which the sentence expresses more strongly - concession (although / while), or contrast (whereas / while).
1. I see what you're getting at, I don't necessarily agree with you.
Whereas - While
2. France is quite centralised, Germany is more federal in nature.
although - whereas
3. she's only lived here a few years, she speaks English fluently.
Although - Whereas
4. The elder daughter is training to be an engineer, her sister is studying medicine.
whereas - while
5. the climate on the west coast is relatively warm and wet, on the east coast it's colder and drier.
Although - While
6. She's usually right about these things this time I think she's mistaken.
although - while
7. I got completely lost, I'd been there a couple of times before.
although - whereas
8. in the past this type of information was only available to a few, now it is available to anyone with an internet connection.
Although - Whereas
9. Most first year students live in student residences, those in their second and third years tend to prefer living in flats.
although - while
10. The Prime Minister has announced early elections nobody really knows quite why.
although - while
11. United have won five out of their six matches so far, City have only managed to win one.
although - whereas
12. the company haven't made an official announcement, many commentators expect them to launch the long-awaited new model next week.
Whereas - While

Show my comments to Exercise 3

If using while for concession, remember to put the while-clause first, but if it simply expressed contrast, I'd put it second.


Both while and whereas would be good words to work into your written work (whereas is in the Academic Word List, for example). But until you get really familiar with it, I'd reserve whereas for pure contrast, and put the whereas-clause second.

3. Even though and even if

As we've seen, even though is a stronger version of although and means despite the fact that. Even if, however, introduces a condition, and is more like whether or not.
  • Even though he's busy, I think you should ask him.
    = Despite the fact that he's busy, ...
    I know that he's busy - we know that the information in the concessive clause is true.
  • Even if he's busy, I think you should ask him.
    = Whether or not he's busy, ...
    I don't know for sure whether he's busy or not - the information in the concessive clause may be true, but we don't know for certain.
Exercise 3even though or even if - choose the best option
Click on your preferred option to underline it
1. She stayed out late even though / even if I told her to be back early.
2. Even though / Even if they win, they can't get through the next round.
3. He agreed to meet them even though / even if he knew that it was pointless.
4. I really enjoyed the film, even though / even if I don't usually like Westerns.
5. It's worth going for the interview, even though / even if they turn you down.
6. We're going for a walk later even though / even if it doesn't clear up.
7. Even though / Even if we've met a few times, I don't know him very well.
8. Even though / Even if we did turn up a bit late, it wouldn't really matter.

4. Other ways of introducing an unexpected contrast

4a. Conjunctive adverbs and adverbials

We can also express contrast and concession with adverbs and adverbial expressions. In writing, these adverbs and adverbial expressions usually start a new sentence, or follow a semicolon or dash ( - ), and are themselves followed by a comma.


  • however
    My wife likes the mornings best. I, however, prefer the evenings.
  • on the other hand
    The West coast is quite wet. On the other hand, it is also quite warm.
  • in contrast
    The West coast is quite wet. In contrast, the east coast is much drier.
    In contrast to the east coast, the west coast in quite wet.


  • nevertheless, nonetheless (more formal)
    We'd seen the film before. Nevertheless, my wife wanted to watch it again.
  • however
    I'd rather have watched the football - however, I agreed to watch the film.
  • even so
    It was a quite good film. Even so, I'd have preferred to watch the football.
  • all the same
    I quite enjoyed it; all the same, I prefer something a bit more lively.
We can also put however and nevertheless at the end of the second sentence or clause.
  • My wife likes the mornings best. I prefer the evenings, however.
  • We'd seen the film before. My wife wanted to watch it again, nevertheless.


Advanced foreign learners no doubt already use however and on the other hand, but if you don't already do so, now would be a good time to add nevertheless and in contrast to your armoury. They are especially useful in academic writing.

4b Much as + subj + verb

We can use much as, to mean even though, with verbs like love, hate etc
  • Much as I like her, this is going too far
    (even though I like her)
  • OK, I'll do the washing up, much as I detest it!
    (even though I detest it)
See also the section on as ... as ...

4c. It doesn't matter / no matter how /what etc

We can use it doesn't matter how/what etc, or no matter how/what etc, instead of even though.
  • It didn't matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't do it.
  • No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't do it.
  • (Even though he tried very hard)

4d. however, whatever, whichever

We can also use however, whatever etc in a similar way to no matter how/what etc.
  • however + adjective
    However tired she was, she always managed to cook a meal.
  • however + adverb
    He just couldn't manage, however hard he tried.
  • however much / many
    I'm not changing my mind, however much you ask me.
    However many times you ask me, the answer will still be no!
  • whatever, whenever etc
    We'll do it, whatever it takes.
    Nobody talks to me like that, whoever they are!

I Will Be Right Here Waiting For You

Sung by Bryan Adams and written by Richard Marx. (hat tip to a commenter at
Wherever you go, whatever you do
I will be right here waiting for you
whatever it takes, or how my heart breaks
I will be right here waiting for you

Exercise 4a

although   · as   · despite   · however   · matter   · much   · still   · whatever   · whereas   · wherever   · whichever   · whoever  
1.   much she practised, she just couldn't get the hang of it.
2. The people were incredibly friendly,   we went.
3.   we had already eaten, we went for a pizza.
4. I've made my mind up,   she says about it.
5. No   how hard I try, I just can't open this jar.
6. We went for a long walk,   the wet weather.
7. Tired   we were, we managed to make it to the top of the hill.
8.   we spoke to told us the same thing.
9. I've always been fairly relaxed,   my sister gets a bit uptight.
10.   as I love our holidays in Spain, I do like a change sometimes.
11. He did a lot of revision, but   failed the exam.
12. We're going to be late,   way we go.

4e. Adjective + as/though + subject + linking verb

Look at these two sentences:
  • Although the exam was difficult, he passed it easily.
  • Difficult though the exam was, he passed it easily.
In the second example, the adjective has been fronted and followed by though. Fronting like this is sometimes used with adjectives and linking verbs such as be, seem, appear, become, look, sound etc. This is done for effect or emphasis.
Note - in the fronted version we can only use though, not although or even though.
We can use as instead of though, but only in fronted constructions. (If we started with as, it would suggest cause, not concession):
  • Talented though/as she is, she didn't get the first prize.
    (even though she's talented.)
  • Smart though/as she appears, she was unable to answer the question.
    (even though she appears smart)
  • Surprising though/as it sounds, I've never been to London.
    (even though it sounds amazing)
In Section 6b, we look at less common forms of fronting, with other types of word. See also the section on as ... as ...
Exercise 4bMatch the sentence halves, giving special emphasis to the adjectives by moving them to the front of the sentence and adding though, as in the example.
It sounds fascinatingHe is rich
He was exhaustedHe was outclassed
He is goodHis answer was unlikely
It may seem strangeThe train is fast
The food was delicious
eg. Delicious though the food was , I couldn't eat another thing.
1. , he hasn't had a holiday for years.
2. , he isn't as talented as my brother.
3. , it still took us most of the day to get there.
4. , I think I'll give it a miss.
5. , he's not exactly generous with his money.
6. , it turned out that he was actually correct.
7. , he managed to complete the whole course.
8. , he still put in an excellent performance.

4f. But / yet (+ still / even so / all the same)

As we saw at the beginning, we usually use but to express simple contrast. We can also strengthen the contrast of but by using it together with certain other words. It can then give a sense of concession to the first clause, similar to even though.
  • but still
    He ran his best race yet, but still managed to come almost last.
    (even though he ran his best race yet)
The expressions even so and all the same can come immediately after but, or at the end of the sentence.
  • but even so
    There may be some problems, but even so, I think we should go ahead.
    There may be some problems, but I think we should go ahead even so.
    (even though there may be some problems)
  • but all the same
    He made a big mistake, but all the same, I think we should give him a second chance.
    He made a big mistake, but I think we should give him a second chance all the same
    (even though he made a big mistake)
In more formal contexts (and) yet is sometimes used like but to give a concessive meaning to the clause that comes before it:
  • The neighbourhood is only five minutes from the city centre; yet it is a haven of peace and quiet.
    (even though the neighourhood is only ten minutes from the city centre)
  • He put in his best performance to date, and yet failed to even win a medal.
    (even though he put in his best performance to date)

More exotic ways of saying although / even though

5a. when

We sometimes use when with a concessive meaning. In this case, the when clause always comes second.
  • He stayed out late when I specifically told him to be back by midnight.
    (even though I specifically told him)
  • She did it all by herself when she could easily have asked for help
    (even though she could have asked for help)
  • He brought me a white coffee when I'd asked for a black one.
    (although I'd asked for a black one)

5b. if and if not

We can sometimes use if, usually followed by an adjective or adverbial expression, to have a concessive meaning:
  • The salary is pretty good, if slightly less than I was hoping for.
    (although (it's) slightly less than I was hoping for)
  • The flat is in a lovely area, if a bit far from the city centre.
    (although (it's) a bit far from the city centre)
  • It’s possible, if difficult.
    (although it may be difficult)
With the expression if not, however, there can sometimes be a bit of ambiguity. Take the sentence:
  • She is very bright, if not a genius.
This could have a concessive meaning:
  • She is very bright, although not a genius.
But here, if not can also mean something like perhaps even.
  • She is very bright, perhaps even a genius.
In spoken language, the meaning is usually pretty clear from intonation - in the second meaning we'd stress genius and our intonation would go up. But in written texts there can sometimes be some ambiguity. For this reason, some commenters, for example the Johnson language blog at the Economist and Bryan Garner, author of Garner's Modern American Usage, suggest avoiding it in writing.

5c. ... may ... but ...

  • David may have passed with a higher grade, but Sally shows the better attitude.
    (Although David passed with a higher grade, Sally shows the better attitude)
  • Sally may not be the highest qualified, but she does have the most experience.
    (Although Sally isn't the highest qualified, she does have the most experience)
  • It may be a demanding job, but at least it's not boring.
    (Although it's a demanding job, at least it isn't boring)
  • The climb may have been a long one, but it was certainly worth it for the views.
    (Although the climb was a long one, it was certainly worth it for the views)

5d. albeit

You will occasionally come across albeit (pronounced as all be it) in printed texts. It is rather formal and means although / even though / even if. It is not followed by a clause, but usually by an adverb (especially of manner - and with rather a negative meaning, such as reluctantly) or similar prepositional phrase, often starting with or without.
In all these examples, albeit could be replaced by although (or concessive if - see 5c). The albeit phrase always follows a verb, but can come between two verbs, as in the first example:
  • They finally agreed, albeit reluctantly, to accept our offer.
  • They made their way up the hill, albeit rather slowly.
  • She finally accepted his idea, albeit with some hesitation.
  • He tried as hard as he could, albeit without much success.

5e. Contrastive emphasis with auxiliaries

In spoken language we can intensify contrast and concession by emphasising auxiliaries. Remember that in simple tenses we need to add do / does / did
  • I don't like jam, although I do like marmalade.
  • We don't usually like his films, but we did like his last one.
  • They've never been to Paris, although they have been to France several times.
  • He can't snowboard, although he can ski quite well.

5f. As ... as ...

We've already seen fronted constructions with as, like 'Strange as it may seem', 'Much as I regret having done it' and 'Hard as I tried'. These could all be preceded by 'As' - As strange as it may seem', etc, and there is some evidence to suggest that these constructions beginning with As are becoming more popular in American English:
This seems to be more pronounced when we add the word 'may':

6. Some advanced points

6a Non-finite and verbless concessive clauses

Rather like with reduced relative clauses, we can sometimes form 'reduced' concessive clauses with -ing forms, 3rd forms and certain verbless constructions instead of a full clause with subject and finite verb.
We can do this with although, though, even though and while, but not with whereas or when. The concessive clause usually comes first (especially with while)

-ing forms - active meaning

  • While not wanting to offend him, she was nevertheless determined to be frank.
    (while she didn't want to offend him)
  • Although generally singing her praises, he could, at times, be quite critical.
    (although he generally sang her praises)

3rd forms - passive meaning

  • Though given every chance, he refused to explain his actions.
    (though he was given every chance)
  • Even though asked very politely, she still refused to help.
    (even though she was asked very politely)

Verbless constructions

These usually omit the verb be and its subject:
  • While certainly a gifted musician, he was rather outclassed in this competition.
    (while he is certainly a gifted musician)
  • He is fitter than most fifty-year-olds though well into his eighties.
    (though he is well into his eighties)

6b Fronting of concessive clauses

We saw in Section 5a how adjectives can be fronted with though or as to express concession. Remember that with as, fronting is obligatory. The same is also sometimes done with adverbs, and less commonly, with nouns and verbs.


  • Hard as he tried, he couldn't budge (move) it.
    ((even though he tried hard)


  • Idiot though I may be, I'm not that stupid.
    (although I may be an idiot)


Note that with simple tenses, we need to add do/does/did.
  • Try as he might, he just couldn't find his keys anywhere.
    (even though he tried very hard)
  • Fail though she did this time, she didn't give up hope of passing eventually.
    (although she failed this time).

Fronting with that + be

We can do something similar with that and the verb be. Again, fronting is obligatory. In American English only Noun phrases can be treated this way, but in British English we can do it with adjectives as well.
  • Fool that I am, I nevertheless managed to get everything right.
    (even though I'm a fool)
  • Confident as she was, she soon came unstuck in the interview. (British English)
    (even though she was confident)

NB. Causal meanings

Note that fronted expressions with as and that (but not though) can also be used with the opposite sense, with a causal meaning rather than a concessive one.
  • Late as I was, I decided to take a taxi.
    (because I was late)
  • Smart as she is, she passed the exam with flying colours.
    (because she is smart)
  • Fool that I am, I made a real mess of it.
    (because I'm a fool)
  • Confident as she was, she sailed through the interview.
    (because she was confident)

7. Yes, But arguing - claim | concession | counter-argument.

When we are using more structured language, in a presentation or in writing for example, we use discourse markers to indicate to the listener or reader the general structure of what we are saying.
One such way is by using Yes, But arguing, which uses a three part structure where you:
  1. put forward a claim or argument
    Dogs make the best pets for children
  2. concede there might be other arguments against your claim (= Yes)
    Yes, cats are more independent and need less looking after, perhaps.
  3. return to your original claim, strengthening it (= But)
    But dogs give children more sense of reponsibility.
We use concession markers to introduce the 'Yes' part, and contrast markers to introduce the 'But' part
  • Yes - yes, it is true (that), admittedly, granted, of course, there is no doubt (that), true, to be sure
  • But - but, however, nonetheless, even so, all the same, still
This is a particularly useful device, not only in more academic writing, but any time that you have to put forward an argument, and discuss it. But it is important not to use 'But' expressions in your concessionary part, or 'Yes' expressions in the return part, or you might confuse your listener / reader.
There's a link at the end to a website for teachers where you can find more information about Yes, But arguments.

8. Bringing it all together

Exercise 8aComplete the sentences by entering ONE word into each gap.
1. She decided to take the job, even the salary was less than she had hoped for.
2. No what we talk about, she always disagrees with me.
3. She loves long walks in the country. Her sister, in , prefers to spend her weekends visiting museums.
4. I just couldn't keep up with them, hard I tried.
5. It does sound rather a long way to go just for an ice-cream. On the other , you won't taste a better one.
6. We still felt quite energetic, our long walk.
7. I know she speaks English quite well. Even , it's a bit much expecting her to make a speech.
8. Well I'm not going to his stupid party, you say!
9. I'm not usually very partial to red wines, although I like Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.
10. We're leaving in five minutes even he hasn't turned up by then.
11. We didn't particularly want to go to the function but we did so all the .
12. We took a taxi but we managed to arrive late for the concert.
13. I'm afraid I have to go now, as I would like to help you pack.
14. You well think that's the case, but I couldn't possibly comment.
15. Tell them I'm out, it is.
Exercise 8bChoose the word or expression that fits best by clicking on it.
1. She's very friendly, a little shy.
albeit - no matter - despite
2. He doesn't have a lot of experience but they decided to offer him the job .
albeit - although - nevertheless
3. they've known each other since they were children, it's only recently that they've started going out together.
Nevertheless - Whereas - While
4. I haven't bought the tickets yet, but I don't think there'll be a any problems, .
in contrast - although - though
5. He earns quite a decent salary, his brother has to make do on very little.
whereas - in spite of - albeit
6. He borrowed my bicycle I particularly told him not to.
when - albeit - however
7. the number of red squirrels in Scotland is declining, the grey squirrel population continues to increase.
Whereas - However - No matter
8. Funny it may seem, I've never seen Star Wars.
even though - though - although
9. The houses next to the park are quite expensive. Those a street or two away, , are a bit cheaper.
however - nevertheless - even so
10. The old house, somewhat delapidated, has a lot of charm.
if - as - when
11. I've always wanted a Ferrari. , it would be a bit impractical, but think of how much fun you could have.
However - Still - True
12. not having arrived at at a firm decision yet, we're increasingly inclined to accept their offer.
- While - Whereas - When

Notes on while and whereas

Use and position of while-clauses

The vast majority of while-clauses on newspaper websites and at the BNC have the time meaning, rather than one of contrast or concession, so it would take far too long to find those I'm interested in. Accordingly, I've just looked at the example sentences given in several (sixteen to be precise) online dictionaries:
contrast - 1st clause3
contrast - 2nd clause22
concession - 1st clause24
concession - 2nd clause0
In dictionary examples, at least, while-clauses expressing contrast usually come second, and always come first when expressing concession. Furthermore, in the entry for while at the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, there is a note that in the sense of although or despite the fact that (in other words, concession), while is 'used at the beginning of a sentence'.

Use and position of whereas-clauses

This table shows a breakdown of examples of whereas taken from various sources. I have classified them as to whether I thought they were being used to express contrast, concession, or ambiguous (where I wasn't sure), and as to whether the whereas-clause came first or second in the sentence.
The newspaper examples were the first shown on a Google site search for their particular websites, the examples from the British National Corpus (BNC) were a random sample chosen by the BNC website.
Contrast 1st264517
Contrast 2nd142510163499
Ambiguous 1st382518
Ambiguous 2nd1012
Concessive 1st141410
Concessive 2nd1113
Out of 147 instances of whereas, 116 were pure contrast, 20 rather ambiguous, and 13 certainly seemed to express some sort of concession.
So we can say that just under 80% expressed pure contrast, of which the vast majority (85%) had the whereas-clause in second position.
Of the remaining 20%, those whereas-clauses which were rather ambiguous, or which I thought definitely expressed concession, around 85% of them came at the start of the sentence.

Some examples of whereas-clauses from the media and the BNC

Where they express pure contrast

  • The average London student pays £287 a week for essentials like accommodation, food, study materials and travel - whereas Leicester students pay just fraction of this weekly sum at £167.
    (The Daily Telegraph)
  • They (women) see it (visiting the doctor) as a question of maintenance, whereas men see it as a question of repair.
    (The Guardian)
  • Part of the problem, he said, was that the climate sceptic lobby employed communications professionals, whereas "scientists are just barely competent at communicating with the public and don't have the wherewithal to do it."
    (The Independent)
  • The more prestigious (private schools) such as Eton, Harrow and Winchester can afford to charge annual fees in excess of £4,000 (more than $6,000 in 1983 terms), whereas some less prestigious day schools may charge less than £1,000 per year.
    (British National Corpus - NB these figures are much higher today!)
  • Whereas some Italian coaches are obsessed by formation, strategy and shape, the Real Madrid manager has a more relaxed approach that concentrates on maximising individual talent.
    (The Guardian)

Where they suggest a strong element of concession

  • Whereas most modern performance cars encourage aggression through their virulence, the Stag suppresses it while getting there just as quickly.
    (British National Corpus)
    Here, the writer is not simply contrasting the (Triumph) Stag - a British sports car produced in the 1970s - with another sports car, but is suggesting that it was different from most other 'modern' sports cars. In this way the information about the Stag is slightly surprising or unexpected, so I think we can talk of concession here.
  • Whereas the French Ministry of Culture alone has 7,000 officials, the entire European Commission has less than double (12,911) to deal with all policies.
    (British National Corpus)
    In this example, the concession comes from the writer's implying that the European commission is surprisingly small when compared with national governments - the key word here is alone.
  • Yet whereas US GDP stands roughly where it was just before the financial crisis broke, the UK's GDP is some 4pc below. Why the difference?
    (The Guardian)
    I think there is concession here (strengthened by that opening 'yet') in that the writer seems rather surprised that the UK's GDP is so low compared with that of the US.
  • Whereas only four per cent of people at any one time have major depression, around one third suffer symptoms of the minor variety.
    (The Guardian)
    Considering how few people suffer from major depression, it is perhaps surprising (concession) that as many as a third suffer from minor depression.
  • I think women in sport are perceived as being not very feminine, not very girly, whereas we can be.
    (The Guardian)
    A rare example of a whereas-clause used for concession appearing in second position. The information in the whereas-clause is contrary to the general perception (although would fit here) - hence the concession.

Other (ambiguous) examples of whereas-clauses in first position

  • But whereas Bristol's A&E (Accident and Emegency) departments are filling up by midnight with fight injuries, you rarely see as much as a scuffle in Bilbao.
    (The Guardian)
    Here, the writer is comparing alcohol use among young people in Southern European with that of the British, the main subject of his article. The information in the main clause contrasts with the general theme of his article - that (in Britain) alcohol and violence often go together.
  • They ate dairy products, but whereas much of it in Jamaica was home-reared, ours comes, less healthily, from mass production.
    (The Guardian)
    The author (a British journalist of Jamaican descent) is comparing what Jamaican emmigrants ('they') ate back home in Jamaica with what they now eat in Britain. The information in the whereas-clause is rather positive, whereas that in the main clause is rather negative.


As there is very little about the exact uses of while and whereas in standard EFL and ESL resources, I've relied heavily on A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, by Quirk, Greenbaum and others.

A note on the relative use of concession words and expressions

The figures from shows how common a word is (the lower figures being the most common). The figures for the BNC show how many instances of a word or expression there are in the British National Corpus, a collection taken from various modern texts (mainly from the 1970s and 1980s), amounting to around 100 million words.
even if-8565
even though-5751
in spite of-2708
even so-1419
all the same-1031
no matter how-1005
no matter what-559
However, although, though, despite, nevertheless, whereas all have a three star rating at Macmillan Dictionary and are included in the The Oxford 3000 TM of most common words.
Whereas, despite, nevertheless, nonetheless, albeit also appear in the Academic Word List.

Answers and printing

Related posts


Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary Usage Notes

There are useful notes on contrast and concession at these entries.

Although, despite etc

While and whereas

Yes, But arguing

if not


At Google Books

These are only extracts. At the time of publishing this post, the relevant sections were available for viewing.


  1. Thanks a lot for the clearest and the most comprehensive explanation of the ways to express concession and contrast; and actually the rest of the grammar. You really should write grammar books. I would appreciate if you could contact me by email: ... I have some interesting ideas you could implement in your further posts.

  2. Thank you for your kind comments.

    As to ideas, I'm sure you'll appreciate that the fun for me of writing a blog largely comes precisely from the fact that I'm using my own ideas, not somebody else's. This blog is all my own work, so to speak, which is also why I stick to simple Javascript I can understand, rather than use a library. And in any case I still have quite a long to-do list to work through.

    But you're welcome to drop me a line at will + dot + randomidea + at sign + gmail + dot + com

  3. This is absolutely fantastic!
    Thanks ever so much!

    One thing though, could you work on the introductory exercise? I can't check my answers...

  4. Sorry for the delay, I'm offline at home at the moment. Yes, there's a problem with the first exercise, and I'll try and fix it as soon as possible.

  5. Thanks for your valuable blog. It is really amazing and your style of teaching and writing here is wonderful. Thanks for your great efforts.

  6. Dear teacher,
    could you please tell me if the following sentences are correct?(I want to use gerund after in spite of instead of noun).

    In spite of this team losing today, we will always support you, be proud of you, and remain your biggest fans forever.

    In spite of it losing today, we will always support you, be proud of you, and remain your biggest fans forever.

    In spite of its losing today, we will always support you, be proud of you, and remain your biggest fans forever.

  7. Hi S MH

    The use of the gerund is grammatically correct here, but the halves of the sentences don't quite match.

    As it's obvious which team we are talking about ("you"), in the first sentence we'd say "the team", rather than "this team". Another example (watching your team play) - "The team is/are playing well today". (More about "is/are" below)

    The second part of the sentence refers to "you", in other words, "you, the team (that we support)". So, if we were going to use a pronoun after "in spite of", it would be "you" (Sentence 2) or "your" (Sentence 3), not "it" or "its". Both "you" and "your" are possible, with "your" being slightly more formal.

    If you had been talking to somebody else about the team, and had referred to it with a singular noun in the second half ("the team", for example, or its name perhaps), then you could have used "it" or "its":
    "In spite of it/its losing today, we will always support United"

    But note that there's a difference between British and American English here. Americans generally refer to singular group words ("collective nouns" - e.g. "the team, United") as "it" and use a singular verb - "United is playing well today".

    In British English we usually refer to a team as "they" and use a plural verb - "United are playing well today". So in this case we'd probably say:
    "In spite of them/their losing today, we will always support United."

  8. Such an amazing, informative and also helpful website.
    Someone in the following link recommend this website. Now, I find it interesting and amazing. Your style of teaching is amazing. Dear teacher, do you have any videos?

  9. Amazing work! Thanks for your scholarly work! This is by far the best and most comprehensive analysis of the contrast words and phrases. What's more, the discussion is enhanced with exercises with instant feedback.