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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

much as

however, whatever, whoever etc

but still, but even so, but all the same

nevertheless, however, even so, all the same


no matter how / what etc
adjective + as / though
(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.

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.

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.


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 whilealtogether:
Peterson scored the first two goals and/but the third was headed in by Jennings.

Whilst
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.

Whereas
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
toalthough. 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.

Concesso
n

Contrast

although
whereas
while

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.

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.
Contrast

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.
Concession

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.
Tip
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 anglisci.pl)
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
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 ...

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)
Its 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 albeitphrase 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.

He tried as hard as he could, albeit without much success.

She finally accepted his idea, albeit with some hesitation.


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.

They've never been to Paris, although they have been to France several times.

We don't usually like his films, but we did like his last one.
He can't snowboard, although he can ski quite well.

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.
Adverbs

Hard as he tried, he couldn't budge (move) it.


((even though he tried hard)
Nouns

Idiot though I may be, I'm not that stupid.


(although I may be an idiot)
Verbs
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,
Butarguments.
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.
Reference
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.

Links
Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary Usage Notes
There are useful notes on contrast and concession at these entries.

although

whereas

nevertheless
Although, despite etc

BBC Learning English 41


While and whereas

BBC Learning English 69

BBC Learning English 288


Yes, But arguing

Yes, But arguing - Minnesota and Wisconsin Tesol Journal


if not

Grammarphobia

WSU Common Errors

The Economist
Various

Motivated Grammar - Is there any difference between in spite of and despite? A linguist's
thoughts.
Grammar Girl - while and although
anglisci.pl
At Google Books
These are only extracts. At the time of publishing this post, the relevant sections were available for
viewing.

Oxford A-Z of Grammar, John Seely

The Teacher's Grammar of English, Ron Cowan

Active Grammar Level 3 , Mark Lloyd, Jeremy Day

A Communicative Grammar of English, Geoffrey Leech, Jan Svartvik

Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar: A Guide for EFL Teachers, Martin J. Endley
-even if / even though
Garner's Modern American Usage - while

C. CONJUNCTIVE ADVERBS These conjunctions join independent clauses together. The


following are frequently used conjunctive adverbs:
after all
in addition
next
also
incidentally
nonetheless
as a result
indeed
on the contrary
besides
in fact
on the other hand
consequently
in other words
otherwise
finally
instead
still
for example
likewise
then
furthermore

meanwhile
therefore
hence
moreover
thus
however
nevertheless -> oddzielasz przecinkie przed i po wyrazie
D. SUBORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS These words are commonly used as subordinating
conjunctions
after
in order (that)
unless
although
in so far as
until
as
in that
when
as far as
lest
whenever
as soon as
no matter how
where
as if
now that
wherever
as though
once
whether
because
provided (that)
while
before
since
why

even if
so that
even though
supposing (that)
how
than
if
that
inasmuch
as though
in case (that)
till-> nie oddzielasz