How to Explain Despite Vs. Although

So many ways to say the same thing…so confusing for students!

English, like all other languages, has many different ways to express one thing. For example, we can say “too,” “as well,” and “also,” and the meaning is virtually indistinguishable. The same is true for these commonly confused words: despite, in spite of, despite the fact that, in spite of the fact that, although, though, and even though. These expressions are all used for the same case: to describe a situation where something is unexpected. So how do we explain the different sentence structures and punctuation for these expressions? Over the years, I’ve developed an easy, clear way to present and teach these expressions to my students. I hope it works for you, too!

1. Unexpected situations

First, explain to your students that we use all of these terms to describe a situation that is unexpected. For example, if it is raining, we expect that most people would use an umbrella. If someone chooses not to use an umbrella, this would be an unexpected case. Write this sentence on the board:

  • It is raining. I didn’t use my umbrella.

2. Despite / In spite of + N

Next, explain to your students that despite and in spite of must be followed by a noun or gerund. You can also point out that despite and in spite of have the same meaning, but despite is more commonly used than in spite of. The latter is a little more formal.

a) Despite / In spite of + N, + SVO.

Write sentence pattern (a) and the following examples on the board, pointing out that we use a comma when we start the sentence with despite or in spite of (the adverb phrase).

  • Despite the rain, I didn’t use my umbrella.
  • In spite of the rain, I didn’t use my umbrella.

b) SVO + despite / in spite of + N.

Write sentence pattern (b) and the following examples on the board. Make sure to tell your students that we can also start the sentence with the main clause, with no changes in meaning. In this case, we don’t need a comma.

  • I didn’t use my umbrella despite the rain.
  • I didn’t use my umbrella in spite of the rain.

For examples using gerunds, write the following:

  • Despite studying all night, she didn’t pass her exam.
  • She didn’t pass her exam despite studying all night.
  • In spite of studying all night, she didn’t pass her exam.
  • She didn’t pass her exam in spite of studying all night.

3. Despite the fact that / In spite of the fact that + SVO

Explain to your students that we have a way, in English, to use despite and in spite of with a Subject-Verb-Object clause. We can add the phrase the fact that. Make sure you point out to your students that this way is not commonly used as it is very formal. They should be aware of it, but they probably won’t use it much. (Note that when I say “SVO,” I’m simply referring to a main clause…some verbs do not take a direct object, as with “it was raining.”) You can write sentence patterns (c) and (d), and the examples, on the board:

c) Despite the fact that / In spite of the fact that + SVO, + SVO.

Ensure your students notice the use of a comma when we start the sentence with the adverb clause.

  • Despite the fact that it was raining, I didn’t use my umbrella.
  • In spite of the fact that it was raining, I didn’t use my umbrella.

d) SVO + despite the fact that / in spite of the fact that + SVO.

Point out that there is no comma used when we start the sentence with the main clause.

  • I didn’t use my umbrella despite the fact that it was raining.
  • I didn’t use my umbrella in spite of the fact that it was raining.

4. Although / Though / Even though + SVO

Tell your students that all three of these expressions are common, and they essentially have the same meaning. One could argue that there is slightly more emphasis on the unexpected with even though, but I don’t see it as an important distinction, and students already have enough to remember as it is. The choice of which expression to use is theirs, but I often tell students that I tend to use although more than the other two, and I’ve noticed that it appears on the TOEIC test more often as well. Here are some examples to write on the board, along with patterns (e) and (f):

e) Although / Though / Even though + SVO, + SVO.

Reiterate that we need a comma when we start the sentence with an adverb clause.

  • Although it was raining, I didn’t use my umbrella.
  • Though it was raining, I didn’t use my umbrella.
  • Even though it was raining, I didn’t use my umbrella.

f) SVO + although / though / even though + SVO.

Again, make sure your students notice the lack of comma when starting the sentence with the mainvclause.

  • I didn’t use my umbrella although it was raining.
  • I didn’t use my umbrella though it was raining.
  • I didn’t use my umbrella even though it was raining.

Although these structures can be tricky, I hope your students will master them in no time once they see all of these examples!

Tanya

PS.

Your students can practice using “despite” in our NEW Climate Change lesson plan. A full lesson plan on Complex Sentences and Adverb Clauses of Contrast is available in our Grammar Practice section.

8 comments

Leave a Comment ↓

  1. celestenguyenclarke@gmail.com'

    Celeste Clarke says:

    Jan 20, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Which of the below are correct? Could you please explain them for me. Thank you very much.
    1) In spite of not having finished the paper, he went to sleep.
    2) In spite of having not finished the paper, he went to sleep.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 22, 2018 at 6:31 pm

      Hi Celeste,

      Good question. When an English verb has more than one “part” to it, sometimes an adverb such as “not” can appear in more than one position (and the meaning stays the same). Sometimes one position is more common. In this case, the first sentence sounds more natural.

      Both your sentences are correct, but “In spite of not having finished the paper, he went to sleep” is more common and the better choice.

      Reply

  2. kitanodaichi0713@gmail.com'

    YOSHI says:

    Sep 15, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    I have a question about the following sentence.

    “No wonder the policeman is in conflict from the pressure to choose one evil ( ) a quick decision and his real desire to avoid the issue.”

    This is from a textbook for Japanese high school students.

    For the blank, we have two options :through and despite.
    The textbook says “through” is the best answer instead of “despite.”

    Is that because the despite phrase only modifies the main verb “is”?

    I would really appreciate it if you replied to me.

    Thank you.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 22, 2017 at 2:17 pm

      Hi Yoshi,

      First of all, that sentence is confusing and difficult to understand, though the meaning of “through” is slightly better.

      But the choice is not about the main verb. The choice is purely one of meaning. “Through” in this sense means “by ways of,” while “despite” means “even though something opposite/negative is happening.”

      For example:
      – I learned English through online courses. (= by way of/the method was online courses)
      – We studied for an hour despite the noise. (= even though something negative made it hard to concentrate)

      In your sentence, the meaning “…to choose one evil through a quick decision” (by way of) makes more sense than “despite” (even though).

      Reply

  3. tatoolka@yahoo.com'

    Татьяна says:

    Jan 04, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    And what if a phrase with “despite / inspite of” is used after ” He said that…”? For example: He said that despite the rain they went out.
    Should we use commas around “desite the rain”?

    Reply

  4. apple@yahoo.com'

    Still Learning Engrish says:

    Aug 26, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Thank you so much for the post! It’s very helpful!

    Reply

Leave a Comment