Your English Teacher Was Wrong: You MAY Start a Sentence with And, But, So

www.RuthlessEditor.comA new academic year begins soon. As students of all ages head back to school, many will work on developing or fine-tuning their writing skills.

Different teachers will have different expectations — and different grammar rules. Some will claim that you shouldn’t start a sentence with And, But or So.

Is that a valid edict? It depends.

And, but and so serve as conjunctions; they’re joiners.

As such, they can be the perfect transition between one thought and another when your writing has an informal tone.

Here are examples that use these informal joiners:

Beth grabbed the bucket of water, set out on a dead run, and reached the gate just as it was swinging shut. And she didn’t spill a drop!

Aaron promised he would never take his parents’ car without permission. But can you guess what he did last night?

The longer thumb-sucking continues, the higher the likelihood your child will need orthodontic treatment. So when should you intervene, and what should you do?

(A cautionary note: Some believe that so has reached a point of overuse. Use care in how often you choose it to start a sentence.)

Here are the same examples with more-formal joiners — a conjunction and two prepositions:

Beth grabbed the bucket of water, set out on a dead run, and reached the gate just as it was swinging shut. However, she didn’t spill a drop!

Aaron promised he would never take his parents’ car without permission. Despite that pledge, can you guess what he did last night?

The longer thumb-sucking continues, the higher the likelihood your child will need orthodontic treatment. Given the potential for that undesirable outcome, when should you intervene, and what should you do?

Good writers use the fewest and the shortest words.

Good writers also consider their audience.

If you’re writing a dissertation, a thesis, a report on research findings or any treatise, you’ll be wise to use conjunctions that convey a formal tone: however, nevertheless, moreover, furthermore, additionally.

But if you’re writing informally, there are many cases where and, but and so — all a single syllable — are acceptable ways to start a sentence.

To support my case, consider this guideline from the Chicago Manual of Style:

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.

Whether it’s academic writing, business writing, blog or website content, or a dating-site profile, choose your words wisely.

Is there a grammar “rule” you love to break?

If you like this Killer Tip, please share it with friends, colleagues and clients.

Kathy Watson
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Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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Kathy Watson
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