And, yes, a writer can start a sentence with a coordinating

conjunction, but he or she must know what a coordinating conjunction is! “Don’t ever start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction” is an old fallacy. Since English has been written, writers of English have been starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions. Why not? Ond ic lufige eow! (And I love you.) Old English (the earliest form of English) often started sentences with coordinating conjunctions. The trick is not to overuse this style, until it becomes nothing but monotonous and boring. But the intelligent use of a coordinating conjunction to start a sentence is way cool! Please see below, where the probable reason that teachers teach NOT TO is explained, and I believe it. Grammatically yours, Dr. Butcher

A tip subscriber wrote to ask if she could ever start a sentence with the word “but.” The answer to her question is yes.

The word “but” is one of the seven coordinating conjunctions:


Coordinating conjunctions are used to join words, phrases, and clauses that are balanced as logical equals:

Mary AND I went to the meeting. [joins two subjects]

We were tired YET exhilarated by the end of our first day hiking up Mt. Everest. [joins two adjectives]

We swam all morning BUT fished in the afternoon. [joins two verbs]

Often these conjunctions are used to coordinate two independent clauses (groups of words that can stand alone as sentences). Here are two examples, with the independent clauses in brackets:

[We started to go home], but [we had run out of gas].

[She was a good leader], for [she could delegate well].

Most likely, many people believe they should not start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction because their grammar teachers in grade school discouraged them from doing so. Yet such a rule is completely unjustifiable. When grammar teachers teach youngsters the essentials of sentence structure, they most likely explain that coordinating conjunctions are used to hold together elements within a sentence. Therefore, they may discourage students from starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions because they are trying not only to explain conjunctions but also to help their students learn to avoid sentence fragments like this one:

She was a nice girl. And smart, too.

In this example, using “and” after the period is wrong because the second “sentence” is not really a sentence at all: it has neither a subject nor a verb.

Thus, youngsters carry forward into adulthood the notion that a sentence should never begin with a coordinating conjunction, especially not with “and” or “but.” In fact, however, professional writers have started sentences with coordinating conjunctions throughout history.

Starting virtually every sentence with a conjunction would, of course, make your writing thoroughly monotonous.


About Carmen

I teach English at Shorter College in beautiful Rome, Georgia.
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