Using ‘And’ and ‘But’ to Start Sentences

by • November 15, 2012

Many people have learned in school that you should not begin sentences with a conjunction, in particular ‘and’ or ‘but.’ What is strange about this “rule” is that it is extensively considered a myth. That is, you actually can use conjunctions to start sentences. Why were we taught not to use ‘and’ or ‘but’ to start sentences when we can and sometimes should?

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There are several sources, over hundreds of years, that have supported the use of conjunctions at the beginning of sentences. How it became “bad english” is not quite clear, but aside from not sounding as “intellectual” as the alternatives, one motivation for discouraging the use of conjunctions to start sentences may have arisen from the fact that they are commonly and unnecessarily overused. It’s been found that even many professional writers and journalists will use ‘and’ or ‘but’ when they are not necessary for clarity. (For an overview of some of the errors we see, you can check out Grammarly’s comments and reviews.)

Unfortunately, the overuse of conjunctions to start sentences may be encouraging teachers to forbid the use of them rather than teach students how conjunctions can effectively be used in this way. Here are a few pointers that might help you:

1) Use conjunctions more often.  Get over your fear of starting a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but.’ You won’t always need to use a conjunction, but don’t be too afraid to add one here and there where your writing will be helped by them.

2) Delete conjunctions when they’re unnecessary. Because we use ‘and’ and ‘but’ often in speech, it can be easy to overuse them in your writing. When you’re editing, be sure that each ‘and’ or ‘but’ is enhancing your writing. Often, a sentence starting with ‘and’ does not, in fact, need the conjunction.

3) Readers love simple writing, but use synonyms from time to time.  To prevent your writing from sounding choppy, it’s good to use some synonyms for ‘and’ and ‘but.’ Yes, ‘however’ sometimes seems too academic, but always using monosyllabic conjunctions will make your writing sound repetitive.

How do you use conjunctions in your writing? 

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