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Grammar Tips & Tidbits

 

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Beginning Sentences with "And" or "But"

Is it just me, or did everyone's high school English teacher insist that sentences should never begin with the words and or but? Apparently this is another rule of grammar and usage that we need to unlearn! The following excerpt is taken from the Guide to Grammar and Style by Professor Jack Lynch of Rutgers University:
 

     

Contrary to what your high school English teacher told you, there's no reason not to begin a sentence with but or and; in fact, these words often make a sentence more forceful and graceful. They are almost always better than beginning with however or additionally. Beginning with but or and does make your writing less formal―but worse things could happen to most writing than becoming less formal.

Note, though, that if you open with but or and, you usually don't need a comma: not "But, we did it anyway"; it's enough to say "But we did it anyway." The only time you need a comma after a sentence-opening conjunction is when you want to sneak a clause right between the conjunction and the rest of the sentence: "But, as you know, we did it anyway."
¹

     

Still not convinced? Well, just to be sure, I checked with two leading authorities on grammar and usage: The Chicago Manual of Style and The Gregg Reference Manual. Guess what? They said the same thing! The Gregg Reference Manual explains that using
and or but at the beginning of a sentence can give special emphasis to the idea following it. However, Gregg also recommends against overusing this technique so that it doesn't lose its effectiveness.

Perhaps we should start a letter-writing campaign to all the English teachers who have steered us incorrectly in the past. What do you say?
 
     

Dear Mr. Roland:

I just found out that it's perfectly acceptable to use the word and to start a sentence. And while I'm thinking of it, the word but can be used to begin sentences too!

     

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1. Jack Lynch, "But at the Beginning," Guide to Grammar and Style,
   http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/b.html,
   (accessed November 5, 2006).

2. William A. Sabin, The Gregg Reference Manual, 10th ed., McGraw-Hill/Irwin,
   New York, 2005, pp. 314-315.