You CAN Start A Sentence With And!

As a general rule, your English teacher will tell you to never start a sentence with a conjunction.  Conjunctions, you’re told, are for connecting independent clauses, not starting one.  You use words like “and” or “but” and other coordinating conjunctions to paste a long sentence together, but never to start a sentence, or so you’re told.

Here’s a dirty little secret, however: your teacher has been lying to you.  Style guides agree that starting a sentence with a conjunction is A-OK.  In fact, here’s what the Chicago Manual of Style says:

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.

You can find examples of people using it from as early as Beowulf all through the modern era—it’s just how people write.  So where did this idea that it’s wrong come from?

Well, the problem is, it’s easy to overuse sentences starting with a conjunction like this.  If you’ve ever spent a time with a six-year-old child, you’ll know what I’m talking about; they can seem to talk forever in sentences like:

And then we went to the zoo.  And then I got a new hat.  And then we went to see the monkeys.  But the monkeys weren’t there.  So we had to go to the tigers.  And then the tiger roared…

And so on, and so forth.  It can get excessive!  Starting sentences the same way over and over again leads to sloppy, boring writing.  Rather than teach people to use them sparingly, however, important grammar people decided in the 1800s that they would just say not to do it all, and that was that.  It’s limiting and harmful to your writing, and can make it feel unnatural.  So, feel free to use a good coordinating conjunction to start some sentences if it feels natural; great writers have done that for centuries.

But not all conjunctions can be used like this!  A lot of people think you can’t start a sentence with a conjunction because it creates a fragment, but that’s only true of the subordinating conjunctions.  Words like “after”, “until” or “because” are subordinating conjunctions—they note that the clause they’re attached to is related to, and less important than, the other clause in the sentence.  That’s why a sentence like “Because it was raining” is a fragment and therefore wrong—you know that something happened because it was raining, but you don’t know what.

Coordinating conjunctions can stand on their own, though.  They’re easy to remember, too—there’s only seven of them.  And, but, for, nor, or, so and yet—these seven conjunctions make each part of a sentence have equal weight, and therefore, they can stand on their own.  Feel free to use any of these to start a sentence; it will help spice your writing up.

If you’re concerned you’re over-using conjunctions, come on down to Wordsmith Essays’ order page today–we can help


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