The word gurus at Writer’s Relief are throwing down the grammar gauntlet. And we’re cracking open the style guide. But we’re not drinking more coffee (seems like we’ve had plenty!). The English language is constantly evolving, and we keep current about what’s acceptable and what’s not. We’ve noticed that some writers insist it is wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction like “but” or “and.” Not so! Starting a sentence with these informal transitive words has long been accepted by the major style guides. If the two sentences you’re separating are focused on the same idea, you can indeed start a sentence with “but” or “and.”
Heck yes, you CAN start a sentence with “But” Or “And”
“But I was taught it was wrong!” Unfortunately, what started as an attempt by nineteenth-century teachers to curtail the overuse of conjunctions at the beginning of sentences mistakenly turned into an outright ban. But it has no basis in the style guide books. Sentences starting with “but,” “and,” or other conjunctions can be found in good writing long before this time period.
Of course, you can connect two independent clauses with “but” or “and” in one sentence by using a comma. But if you really want to emphasize these two independent clauses, consider separating the two thoughts with a period instead of a comma. Using “but” or “and” at the beginning of a sentence is a good way to highlight the connection between the sentences.
Using a comma: Reba was going to run in the 5K tomorrow, but she tripped over the grammar gauntlet and broke her foot!
Using a period: Reba was going to run in the 5K tomorrow. But she tripped over the grammar gauntlet and broke her foot!
While both versions are correct, using a period puts more emphasis on why Reba will be sitting at home watching the race on TV.
In fact, you can use any of these coordinating conjunctions to start a sentence: And, But, For, Nor, Or, So, Yet. Occasionally starting a sentence with one of these words will give you more control over the tone of your writing and allows for more variety. Don’t overdo it, or your writing might sound off to your reader. And be sure you are not inadvertently creating sentence fragments.
Another correct example: We can go to the gym. Or we can watch TV.
And another: Shannon left early for the gym. Yet, she still got stuck in traffic.
Not an example, but true: Everyone else stayed home to drink more coffee and watch TV. We wanted to hang out with Reba.
One tiny caveat about starting a sentence with “but” or “and”: Okay, don’t jump out of your chair shouting, “Aha!” Yes, it is grammatically correct to start a sentence with a conjunction. However, in formal writing such as a résumé cover letter, job application, or any business correspondence, most people do not start sentences with conjunctions. It’s simply a style preference, not a rule.
For more great grammar tips and advice, check out these articles on the Writer’s Relief blog:
Apostrophes: A Concise Grammar Guide
Who or Whom: An Epic Grammar Battle Easily Resolved
AND…if you’re ready to boost your odds of getting your writing published, Writer’s Relief is here to help! Our research experts and submissions strategists will pinpoint the best markets for your short story, poetry, personal essay, novel, or memoir—over 90% of our clients have been published with our guidance! Learn more and submit your writing sample to our Review Board today.
Question: What grammar rules do you find most difficult to follow?
Thank you for the (fun) clarification! I’m a writing tutor and get this question a lot. I have been discouraging my students from starting sentences with “and” or “but” in formal essays, but allowing them to use those starts in fiction or personal narratives. Glad for the back-up! 😄