You Can Start A Sentence With 'And' 'But' Or 'Or'

Photo: Negative Space, Pexels

When I was growing up, English teachers drove a specific rule into our developing writer brains: Do not start a sentence with a conjunction.

This, my friends, is incorrect.

In case you need a little grammar brush-up sesh, a conjunction is a word that connects phrases or clauses. “And,” “but” and “or” are the three most common, but the English language has seven conjunctions, which you can remember with the acronym FANBOYS:

For And Nor But Or Yet So

It’s ok to shove any of those right up to the front of a sentence. It’s ok now and it has been ok as long as humans have been writing. Ever read the Bible?

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Plus, Grammar Girl — whom I trust implicitly — says basically every modern grammar book and style guide agree that it’s fine. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style says this about it:

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 per cent) 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.

Perhaps at some point the practice of conjunction-sentence-starting was seeming to get out of hand and teachers felt they had to ban the practice altogether. Abstinence vs. moderation, if you will.

That was an overreaction, and we’ve all suffered for it.

What should you not do, though? You should not go crazy tossing commas after these conjunctions when you use them at the start of the sentence. But, maybe you really feel like one should go there. And, you would be wrong.

The exception, in my opinion, is with the word “so.” I like a little comma action when I start a sentence with “so.” And this guy at Just Publishing Advice agrees with me:

For me, the word so at the beginning of a sentence is a conjunctive adverb like therefore. So, I would use a comma in both instances.

So, I missed the 5:26 pm train, and then 5:55 pm, but finally made the 6:25 pm train.

Therefore, there I was, stood up and stranded for the second time.

But for the other six conjunctions, you would not normally use a comma.

However, Lifehacker Deputy Editor Alice Bradley disagrees with me and that guy; she is very much anti-comma-after-so.

So I’m just going to drop this little sentence here — with a comma! — to see what she does.


Comments

    I remember having the "don't start a sentence with and or but" conversation with English teachers more than 20 years ago. It didn't make sense then, and it doesn't make sense now. Good to see that it's considered ok.

    I would say that the best way to decide whether to use a comma when starting a sentence with a conjunction is to just say it in your head. If you say it with a little pause and it feels right then put the comma in. If it feels better without a pause leave the comma out. Pretty simple.

    Yeah, a comma goes after so.

    So, in conclusion, I also disagree with your deputy editor.
    But it’s an easy mistake to make.
    And plenty of writers make it.
    Or do they?

    Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
    It looks ridiculous, it reads as ridiculous and it is ridiculous.
    Writing a sentence it is incorrect to write, "..... the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness.."...after 'the earth', should be a comma then and, not And.
    Also, never start another sentence on the same line as the full stop, the sentence should be started on the next line down.
    The English Language taught to me in an English Grammar School by a Doctor Of English would punish you with writing a correct, long sentence 100 times every day for a week, staying behind in the classroom as he sat correcting the other students' homework.
    The incorrect changes in the English Language began in the USA, and who wants to read a page of text without paragraphs and sentences beginning in the middle of a page with For And Nor But Or Yet So
    Neither is there an American English language, nor an Irish English language, or African English language.
    Other incorrect words from America are, Guys, men only, a female is never a guy, meter is a measuring gauge, not a description of distance, a plough is not a plow, a liter is litre, a metric measure, sulphur is an element, not sulfur, gas is a gaseous substance, petrol is a liquid, fibre is correct, not fiber, tire is to feel sleepy, not part of a wheel on a vehicle, biscuits are not cookies, candy is not lollipops or boiled sweets, etc;, jam is jam, not a preserve, jelly is wobbly substance used as a sweet treat after a meal, and many other English words used incorrectly.
    If you are authorised and qualified (no Z in the English word) to state or even dictate publicly the correct, or incorrect use of the English Language then that has to be proven, otherwise stating that the correct use of the English Language is written in your article is false, misleading and without a basis of fact, or part thereof.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now