Posted by: episystechpubs | December 28, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Yes, You Can Start Your Sentence with And or But

Good morning!

I don’t know about you, but more than one of my English teachers told me that it is wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction (and, but, or, so, etc.). Well, they were incorrect. This rule turns out to be a myth.

The Chicago Manual of Style (5.203: “Beginning a sentence with a conjunction”) has this to say:

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.

It turns out that we’ve been starting sentences with conjunctions since the 9th century, according to Merriam-Webster, who also say, “Everybody agrees that it’s all right to begin a sentence with and, and nearly everybody admits to having been taught at some past time that the practice was wrong."

So how did this myth of a rule start? A couple of articles I read say that it likely began with teachers trying to prevent children from stringing together numerous sentences that begin with coordinating conjunctions.

According to Dave Crystal in his book The Story of English in 100 Words:

During the 19th century, some schoolteachers took against the practice of beginning a sentence with a word like but or and, presumably because they noticed the way young children overused them in their writing. But instead of gently weaning the children away from overuse, they banned the usage altogether! Generations of children were taught they should “never” begin a sentence with a conjunction. Some still are.

Thanks 19th century kids. You ruined it for all of us!

In case you’d like to see an example of how you can write a correct sentence beginning with and or but, here are a couple of sentences from the 1959 edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style: But since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue. And although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one.

So, there you go! In the 21st century, you are free to begin your sentences with coordinating conjunctions. Just be careful to use them sparingly or you know what’ll happen.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432


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