Start a Sentence with a Conjunction
And you may start a sentence with And.
You probably learned in grade school:
Never start a sentence with but, and, or any other conjunction.
Not only can you start sentences with a conjunction, but you must—if you want to become a good writer, that is.
Reread the previous sentence. What words started it? The words Not only. What kind of words are they? Right. The correlative conjunction not only . . . but.
One does not have to look far for support of the proper rule. You may certainly use and or but or any other coordinating or correlative conjunction to start a sentence.
Starting a Sentence with And
Here’s Wilson Follett:
A prejudice lingers from a bygone time that sentences should not begin with and. The supposed rule is without foundation in grammar, logic, or art. And can join separate sentences and their meanings just as but can both join sentences and disjoin meanings. Follett, p. 27.
Here’s Henry Fowler:
There is a persistent belief that it is improper to begin a sentence with And, but this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times onwards. An initial And is a useful aid to writers as the narrative continues. The [Oxford English Dictionary] provides examples from the 9th century to the 19th century, including one from Shakespeare’s King John:
Arthur: Must you with hot Irons, burne out both mine eyes?
Hubert: Young Boy, I must.
Arthur: And will you?
Hubert: And I will.
New Fowler, p. 52.
And one does not have to look far to identify other great writers who use conjunctions as sentence-starters. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, for one, was not at all shy about starting a sentence with And:
Courts proceed step by step. And we now have to consider whether the cautious statement in the former case marked the limit of the law . . . . Johnson v. United States, 228 U.S. 457, 458 (1913).
Starting a Sentence with But
Here’s Justice Holmes again, this time using But to start a sentence:
But to many people the superfluous is necessary, and it seems to me that Government does not go beyond its sphere in attempting to make life livable for them. Tyson & Brother v. Banton, 273 U.S. 418, 447 (1927).
Here’s Justice Hugo Black:
The Framers knew, better perhaps than we do today, the risks they were taking. They knew that free speech might be the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny. Hugo Black, The Bill of Rights, 35 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 865, 880-81 (1960).
Here’s Justice Robert Jackson, who also served as chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials and is regarded by many as one of the best writers ever to sit on the Supreme Court:
This diversification of appellate authority inevitably produces conflict of decision, even if review is limited to questions of law. But conflicts are multiplied by treating as questions of law what really are disputes over proper accounting. Dobson v. Commissioner, 320 U.S. 489, 498-99 (1943).
Starting a Sentence with So
And here’s The Washington Post, in its lead editorial on June 25, 2001, appropriately entitled “And Now to Spend”:
So now it’s spending time, and you guessed it: They’re spending anyway. Nor is it the case . . . that only profligate Democrats are pushing for increases while virtuous Republicans resist. When the Democrats took control of the Senate, Republicans were quick to say that there went fiscal discipline. But in fact they’re both at it; spending is the most bipartisan activity in Washington. And most of the action thus far has been in the Republican House. “And Now to Spend,” The Washington Post, June 25, 2001, p. A14.
Need more proof? Read the first sentence in the third paragraph of the Gettysburg Address. Surely President Lincoln knew how to arrange his words:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
Start a Sentence with Any Conjunction
Have we finally put that myth to rest?
When you exercise your new writing muscles and use conjunctions to start sentences, make certain you do not put a comma immediately after the conjunction. Study the examples above. You will use a comma when you begin a parenthetical pause, as Lincoln did with his “in a larger sense.” But a single comma does not follow the conjunction beginning a sentence.
So go ahead and start sentences with conjunctions. For your writing will improve dramatically. And you’ll help your reader along as you move from sentence to sentence. But if you have trouble convincing your colleagues or professors of the superiority of this style, then send them to Grammar.com and urge them to download the eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.
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