• Patrick Green

Never Start a Sentence with 'And' or 'But'! Really?

Make sure you are in a calm state of mind for this. Grab a seat on anything in sight: a chair, sofa, bed or even the toilet seat, because what I am about to tell you will knock you off your feet. And you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ready? Raise your hand if you were ever told not to start a sentence with the coordinating conjunctions ‘And’ or ‘But’. And did you ever once, question your teacher or the person who scolded you about the usage? Of course you did not! We just listened and did as we were told. Come to think of it, probably if I had been bold enough to act on my apprehension, I would have written far better essays in class and articles for publishing.

After years of avoiding the 'conjunction plague', I did some research and can now confidently say that, (hold on to your seat with one hand) there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in grammar fact (only fiction) that rules out the use of ‘And’ or ‘But’ at the start of a sentence. In fact, I bet if we were to ask those same persons who fooled us in English classes, they would not be able to produce one iota of factual reason or any rule, to avoid these two conjunctions.

So why should you believe me? Well, there are tons of articles on the internet that say so. Stop laughing (LOL)! Not everything on the internet is false or misleading (LOL). Take for example an article on the blog of Oxford Dictionaries; one of the most authoritative source on the English language, which states that the avoidance of usage “is a stylistic preference rather than a grammatical ‘rule’.” It went on to say that noted “writers such as Susan Sontag, Vladimir Nabokov, Kingsley Amis, P.G. Wodehouse, and Albert Einstein) and highly respected grammar and usage guides (such as Fowler and Garner) all agree that it’s a perfectly acceptable practice.”

Miriam Webster, another English language authority spanning 199 years, said that it is “ridiculous to insist that these words should never be used to begin a sentence, when a thousand years of English writing has shown this to be a fine way to start off.”

The Grammarist also has a problem with conjunction avoidance at the start of sentences, and boldly states that, “If anyone tells you starting sentence with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) is incorrect, hand them any piece of professional writing and have them take a look.”

Lexicographer Bryan A. Garner (more than two dozen books on English use and style) writes that “There are certain bits of knowledge that distinguish connoisseurs from poseurs, professionals from dilettantes, cognoscenti from wannabes. In the realm of grammar and writing, it tends to be the sureness that sentence-starting conjunctions are perfectly acceptable and often desirable (connoisseurs), or else the certitude that they are outright mistakes (misinformed poseurs).”

And lastly, the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) included Garner’s opinion that there is “no historical or grammatical foundation” to consider starting a sentence with a conjunction as being “in error,” in response to a question about the subject.

So now you know that ‘And’ and ‘But’ can start a sentence. But how do you use it and avoid fragmentation of a sentence or monotonous over-use? One good reasons to start your sentence with either of these two conjunctions is when you want to create emphasis:

  1. Usain Bolt lost the final 100 metres race of his career at the 2017 World Championships. But there is no doubt our minds, that he is still the greatest of them all.

  2. Jamaica is having a dismal performance at the 2017 World Championships. And this is not even their worse team!

Secondly, when you want an element of surprise:

  1. Twenty-four year old Sherona Forrester was a very good player as a member of the Reggae Girlz Senior Female Football Team. But did you know she has a Master of Science in Economics (Distinction); Bachelor of Science in Economics (Major); Bachelor of Statistician (Major); an Associate Degree in Business Studies, and is the 2016 Rhodes Scholar?

  2. With a heave of 18.91 metres, Danniel Thomas-Dodd was on her way to getting Jamaica’s first medal in shot put, at the 2017 World Championships. And would you believe that with her last throw, Hungarian Anita Marton, denied her?

You can get up now but only if you are out of the shock. As you gain back your composure and start to write again, please do so with the freedom of using ‘And’ and ‘But’ to start your sentences. Just know when it is appropriate so that you convey the correct tone to your readers.

Patrick Green

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