Weekly Excerpt From: GRAMMAR FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE RULES by Kathleen A. Watson

Your English Teacher Was Wrong:
You May Start a Sentence With And, But, So

Should you start a sentence with And? What about But or So?

It depends.

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

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 such as these to 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.

  • Killer Quote: “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.”

— The Chicago Manual of Style

Writing and grammar expert Kathleen Watson, fondly known as The Ruthless Editor, has nearly three decades of experience in both corporate and academic worlds. She has taught business people how to fine-tune their communication style, college students how to strengthen their writing, and Ph.D. candidates how to polish their dissertations. Kathy also has experience as a fiction and nonfiction book copy editor, working with a mix of new and experienced authors.

In addition to writing her own book on grammar, she blogs at RuthlessEditor.com, sharing weekly tips on how to write to get the job you want, earn the promotion you’ve worked hard for, and artfully explain your best ideas.

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