An article discussing the use of linking devices such as 'yet'
One of my students wrote: 'Gustavo is very funny, he tells jokes all the time. On the other hand, Adriano is a little tense. In addition to this, when I have personal problems to work out I always talk to Gustavo. Yet, I can't trust personal secrets to Adriano because he is too young.'
When she uses Yet, it seems to me that it's not correct because it doesn't sound like establishing a relationship with the previous sentence; but I am not sure and I would like to understand the use of these words better before giving an answer to my students.
I would appreciate if you could enlighten me and also if you could provide me with extra bibliography in order to gain more confidence when teaching writing skills.
I think you're right, Clara. The entry for yet in the Macmillan English Dictionary (meaning no. 6) equates yet with 'despite something' and says it's 'used for introducing a word or idea that is surprising after what has just been mentioned'. There's no such relationship in what your student wrote; the statement 'I can't trust personal secrets to Adriano' isn't surprising or unexpected after 'when I have personal problems to work out I always talk to Gustavo'. Yet would be appropriate in a context like: 'When I have personal problems to work out I always talk to Gustavo, yet in these particular circumstances I didn't feel that I could approach him.' There shouldn't really be a comma after yet, either.
I'd also say that the use of in addition to in the sentence 'In addition to this, when I have personal problems to work out I always talk to Gustavo' doesn't really seem appropriate, either, since it introduces a new topic, rather than adding something to the topic of Gustavo being funny and Adriano being tense.
These linking words and phrases are dealt with in dictionaries, which (should!) give clear definitions and helpful examples that illustrate meaning, grammar and style, and in grammar reference books, where they may appear under various headings, such as 'conjunctions', 'adverbs', 'adverbials', 'linking devices' etc.
There are various types of controlled exercises that can help learners get the hang of how to use linking devices – here are three examples.
1. Choose the correct linking word(s):
Fred is generally cheerful, (but/yet/despite) he has sudden bouts of depression.
2. Choose the correct completion(s):
Mo always does her best to be helpful, whereas .........
a) she sometimes makes things even worse as a result.
b) Flo would never lift a finger to help anybody.
3. Complete these sentences:
a. Rashid has a great sense of humour, and is always telling jokes. On the other hand, ............
b. ................., yet he never complains.
You'll find plenty of such exercises, particularly in published materials designed to help learners prepare for English language exams.
But that's only the start, really. Learners need to read extensively in order to develop a real feeling for how these words and phrases are used – and how often – in different types of text. My overall impression of the composition extract you quote is that there's a bit too much 'scaffolding' and not enough 'building', and I'd want to advise the writer to say more about Gustavo and Adriano, and to consider whether they really need so many explicit links between the sentences. For instance, the extract could easily be reduced to:
Gustavo is very funny, and tells jokes all the time. On the other hand, Adriano is a little tense. When I have personal problems to work out I always talk to Gustavo; I can't trust personal secrets to Adriano because he is too young.
It could then be expanded to illustrate or justify the generalisations made about the two people.
Can I make another observation about the extract from the composition that you quote? The first sentence you quote contains a so-called 'comma splice'; in other words, it uses a comma to link two clauses which should either be independent sentences or should be linked with a semi-colon – or, more informally, a dash:
Gustavo is very funny. He tells jokes all the time.
Gustavo is very funny; he tells jokes all the time.
Gustavo is very funny - he tells jokes all the time.
Maybe it's pedantic to point this out, but a lot of examination boards, as well as a sector, at least, of public opinion, disapprove of the dreaded comma splice!
Any general methodology book for teachers will contain a section on teaching writing skills, and probably a short list of suggestions for further reading.