Starting Sentences With “And” or “But” Isn’t Bad


Starting sentences with “and” or “but” isn’t grammatically inappropriate.

You just read that statement, which is a good start. But now, this time, how about you say it with me. Out loud.

"Starting sentences with 'and' or 'but' isn’t grammatically inappropriate."

It’s 2019, which makes it high time to admit that conjunctions aren’t the devil incarnate when placed at the beginning of a written thought.

Really. They’re not.

When we’re speaking, we have the ability to put dramatic or otherwise indicative pauses wherever we want. We routinely add extra emphasis on certain words to make our points more poignant or powerful; or we’ll rush through other phrases to highlight what is and isn’t important.

Why do we do that?

We do it to come across more engagingly and more effectively.

So why can’t we do that in our writing as well?

What are the objections to beginning a sentence with “and” or “but” or any other conjunction out there? They seem to boil down to these four rationales:

  • It’s unprofessional.

  • It’s unprofessional.

  • My third-grade teacher told me not to.

  • It’s unprofessional.

Try scouring the world wide web for an actual explanation for why it’s unprofessional or "my third-grade teacher told me not to," and you’ll come up with absolutely nothing.

At least with the whole “don’t end a sentence on a preposition” rule, there’s a historical explanation. Back in the Greek- and Roman-inspired Neoclassical era, someone influential decided that because the Greeks and/or Romans (or Romans and/or Greeks – I don’t precisely remember) didn’t end their sentences on prepositions, neither should English speakers.

And so a really dumb grammatical decree was born.

But with the “don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction” rule, there’s nothing so impressive.

Try doing a Google search to prove me wrong. I dare you.

If you’re too busy or lazy to accept that dare… but you still think that starting sentences with “and” or “but” isn’t grammatically appropriate… how about we turn to the all-knowing, all-seeing Grammar Girl as our arbiter of answers.

Actually, the following wasn’t written by Grammar Girl herself. It was written by Neal Whitman and published on QuickandDirtyTips.com.

But it was actively endorsed by her. And that’s good enough for me.

Here’s what some of the big usage guides say on the matter. The one that seems to get quoted the most is the Chicago Manual of Style, which says:

There is a widespread belief – one with no historical or grammatical foundation – that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.

Both Garner’s Modern American Usage, and Fowler’s Modern English Usage call this belief a superstition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (or MWDEU) says, “Everybody agrees that it’s alright to begin a sentence with and,” and notes that you can find examples of it all the way back to Old English.

So go ahead. Say it loud, and say it proud: "Starting sentences with “and” or “but” isn’t grammatically inappropriate!"

Then, once you've admitted that, go enjoy your freedom to punctuate your points as needed.

You might just find that your writing becomes a lot more engaging and effective as a result.

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