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  • Nancy Tuten

    9 August 2019

    Starting Sentences with “And” or “But”

    One of our subscribers wrote to ask if it’s OK to start a sentence with the words and or but. The answer is yes.

    The operative word here, though, is sentence. Notice the difference between these two examples:

    Two sentences:

    Mary ran errands all day in the sweltering heat to ensure that she could leave town the next morning for her vacation. But that night she lay in bed remembering all the tasks she had not yet completed.

    One sentence and one sentence fragment: 

    Mary ran errands all day in the sweltering heat to ensure that she could leave town the next morning for her vacation. But that night lay in bed remembering all the tasks she had not yet completed.

    It’s fine to use a coordinating conjunction to launch an independent clause (a group of words with a subject and a verb that could stand alone as a sentence), such as the one we have in the first example. But the sentence fragment in the second example  (a fragment because it is missing a subject), is not OK.

    Coordinating Conjunctions

    And and but are two of the seven coordinating conjunctions:

    • and
    • but
    • or
    • nor
    • for
    • so
    • yet

    Although our subscriber asked specifically about and and but, any of the seven may start a sentence.

    Coordinating conjunctions 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].

    When both of the independent clauses are as short as the ones in these two examples, the comma and coordinating conjunction works well.  But when one or both of the independent clauses are long, we may opt to use a period between them instead of a comma, starting the second sentence with the coordinating conjunction. A period, much more so than a comma, allows the reader to come up for air.

    As with Any Construction, Consider Your Audience and Tone

    While such a construction is certainly considered professional, sentences that begin with a coordinating conjunction sound less formal than those that begin with conjunctive adverbs, such as however, nevertheless, moreover, thus, and furthermore.

    Compare these two constructions:

    • She wanted to leave the office, drive home, and spend the evening alone in front of a fire. But she knew that duty called her to finish the project and to put her best effort into making it superb.
    • She wanted to leave the office, drive home, and spend the evening alone in front of a fire. However, she knew that duty called her to finish the project and to put her best effort into making it superb.

    In some contexts, we sound too formal (perhaps even stuffy) when we use however instead of but or when we use moreover or furthermore instead of and. But certain situations sometimes call for a less casual tone, and business writing is often one of them.

    So go right ahead and start sentences with and or but or any of the other coordinating conjunctions; just be sure that the tone is appropriate for the situation and that what follows the coordinating conjunction is an independent clause, capable of standing alone as a sentence—unless, of course, you are using a sentence fragment intentionally and for effect, as skilled writers sometimes do.

    P.S. It’s OK to start sentences with because, too, but that’s a subject for another article!

    Copyright 2001 Get It Write; revised 2019

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