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I'm French, and my students keep using "thus" at the beginning of sentences, which is close to "ainsi, ...", very much used in French. It's a way of rounding up their paragraph.

Example:

Thus, we can say that the toppling of statues by angry mobs is an attack on democracy.

Personaly, I find it stilted, and I prefer them to use "therefore". Am I right or wrong? Is "thus" at the beginning of a sentence too formal or is it fine?

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    I think "thus" is fine. Of course this depends on what went immediately before this sentence.
    – GEdgar
    Sep 27, 2021 at 17:41
  • It might depend on context and level of formality. I even use it in everyday spoken contexts, but I'm an academic and I live in a world of nerds. I might not try it on a middle-school playground or a coal mine. I'm not sure "therefore" sounds any less formal. Another casual alternative is to use "so": "So we can say that..." Sep 27, 2021 at 18:08
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    I personally have a strong aversion to this word. To me, and I'm in the U.S., it sounds absurdly formal to the point of condescension. It's obviously used in academic articles. It's rarely used in political speeches. If you say "thus" in certain bars, you will be stabbed.
    – cruthers
    Sep 27, 2021 at 18:25
  • Ainsi in French is written, mostly. Just like thus and therefore in English. The corner bar mavens are really just going to go with "so".
    – Lambie
    Sep 27, 2021 at 18:28
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    @AndyBonner - 'I might not try it on a ... a coal mine. "Father: There's nowt wrong wi' gala luncheons, lad! AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT!." Sep 27, 2021 at 18:52

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That use of "thus" (ainsi) in French ties in with the entire "explication de texte" stylistic frame that includes such gems as ainsi, donc, par ailleurs, par conséquent, finalement, en conclusion, among others.

You make your main statement and then support it by a series of secondary statements where the paragraphs will often start with an adverb which marks the next part of the argument. The "thus" will often mark an outcome or result at the end of paragraph's argument. Or even at the end of the essay.

For your sample sentence, I'd prefer: In short, and I would also get rid of the "We can say" ( a royal we) which is another turn of phrase used in French to avoid saying "I think" or "In my opinion". In English, it's OK for students to give their opinions in the first person. Although "Therefore" can be used to show an outcome, it seems to me that this:

  • Thus, we can say that the toppling of statues by angry mobs is an attack on democracy.

is more punchy expressed like this:

  • In my opinion, the toppling of statues by angry mobs is, in short, an attack on democracy. OR
  • The toppling of statues by angry mobs seems, in short, to be an outright attack on democracy.

The word therefore in English does in fact show an outcome contrasted with what precedes it. I don't see that much difference with thus, but probably would not use either here, as explained.

[Please note: I call them gems because they really are. They can really help one learn to get a grip on the French essay writing style.]

in short - Collins Dictionary

PHRASE You use in short when you have been giving a lot of details and you want to give a conclusion or summary.

Ainsi, nous pouvons dire....

A minor point: In English, we do often put thus, therefore and other adverbs of this type, elsewhere in the sentence: It is, therefore, reasonable to argue etc. It is, thus, admissible to argue... That's a style trick that is useful to know.

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  • Thank you very much indeed. Incidently, I've told my students that "thus" inside a sentence could be ok (such as "It is thus admissible to argue...") because that's how I felt, but I couldn't find any support of this thesis in my books. And thank you again for reminding me that a "looser" structure is possible in English. I often feel stifled by all these "connecting words" my students have had to learn over the years and think absolutely necessary. Their papers sound so "un-English" despite being grammatically correct. Sep 27, 2021 at 20:04
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On occasional thus or therefore is fine, however no one wants to find them peppered throughout a piece of writing. Nor do you want to use "In conclusion" more than once.

I would give student alternatives— phrases and techniques to replace these French fallbacks. These can add ideas/information and help the flow. For examples:

This/these/such/ [summary word or phrase, e.g. symbolic acts] are an attack on our democracy.

[summary word, e.g., Acts] such as these are an attack on our democracy.

This is preferable to repeating "the toppling of statues by angry mobs"

Or just pick up and add another idea:

Such attacks on our democracy also have the effect of ...

A short list of alternatives may help your student more than just the advice not to use these words repeatedly.

Another suggestion is to go over with them an example or two of excellent writing in English, analyzing the techniques (often subtle) the author uses to help the reader along and keep them apprised of where they are the piece's overall structure, e.g. introduction, examples, discussion, conclusion.

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  • Such good ideas ! Thank you. Sep 27, 2021 at 20:15
  • Toppling statues is the whole point of the sentence....[Another suggestion is to go over an example with them. There is no author. These are students studying English.
    – Lambie
    Sep 28, 2021 at 15:41
  • "Thus, we can say that the toppling of statues by angry mobs is an attack on democracy." I don't know if this is new information or a repetition. I think "Therefore, we can say..." would be a strange way of introducing a new fact. // Obviously they are studying English. I suggested studying what a good native writer does instead of using direct translations of these French fallbacks (which, as I fluent Italian speaker, I'm well aware of, since Italian has a very similar set).
    – DjinTonic
    Sep 28, 2021 at 15:56

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