Can You Start Sentences with “And” or “But”?

By Daniel Scocco

In the past, English teachers used to preach that one should never start a sentence with conjunctions like and or but. Does this rule still apply today?

Not entirely. It is already acceptable to start sentences with such conjunctions. Some authorities, in fact, even defend that for some cases conjunctions will do a better job than more formal constructions. Here is a quotation from Ernest Gowers addressing the usage of and on the beginning of sentences:

That it is a solecism to begin a sentence with and is a faintly lingering superstition. The OED gives examples ranging from the 10th to the 19th c.; the Bible is full of them.

While it is acceptable to use such conjunctions to start a sentence, you should still use them carefully and efficiently, else your text might become choppy.

Secondly, many people still regard such usage as informal. If you are writing a formal piece or if you are not sure how your audience might react to conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence, you could substitute them with more formal terms. Below you will find some examples.

But I am still awaiting his reply.

Can be written as:

However, I am still awaiting his reply.
Although I am still awaiting his reply.
Nevertheless, I am still awaiting his reply.

And she was running very fast.

Can be written as:

Moreover, she was running very fast.
In addition, she was running very fast.
Furthermore, she was running very fast.

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88 Responses to “Can You Start Sentences with “And” or “But”?”

  • Nicholas Ingrahm

    “In the past, English teachers used to preach that one should never start a sentence with conjunctions like and or but. Does this rule still apply today?”

    “Not entirely. It is already acceptable to start sentences with such conjunctions.”

    It’s already acceptable – according to “experts” who find it easier to change rules than adhere to them. It’s true that language usage changes over time, but the purpose of language is “communication”. Without that, what’s the point?

    Grammar, as wielded by so-called “media professionals” today is often abysmal. A newspaper story about a police chase will begin with, “The car was found at 3 am”, leaving readers scratching their heads, until reading two paragraphs later that the “found” car had been stolen. No one should have to read an article through three times to understand what it’s trying to convey. Televised news reporting is often worse, and don’t get me started on the quality of grammar usage at colleges. I work at one, and a presently prominent poster advertising an upcoming even begins with, “Thanks in advance for coming!”

  • Gavin

    I really loved reading the comments here…..more than most those about the change in the English language over time, as realistically it is less than about 2000 years for it to change in a very dramatic style.

    However, (yes I know) it does still feel wrong for me to allow ‘and’ or ‘but’ at the start of a sentence as I agree with most other this truly feels ‘wrong’……quotes used in deference to others.

    Gavin

  • George

    My credentials: I’m an English professor with 42 years of full-time teaching experience. I’m also a novelist and screenwriter, with world awards in both fields; and I was one of three finalists for a national book award for nonfiction. So (notice the clever conjunction) I have been around the block. But (duh!) don’t take my word for anything. Check the data: Look at the best writers. They often begin sentences with “and” or “but.” (Sorry, I can’t figure out how to make an italics in this website.)

    The idea that you cannot start sentences with “And” or “But” came from the 19th century, when the writer was touted as being more important than the reader. That’s like believing the salesperson is more important than the customer. English teachers emphasized long sentences so the writers could show their “ability.” But in modern writing we often break up long sentences for easier reading.

    On a side note: I found it amusing that “Jim” (October 17, 2011 9:04 pm) ranted that we cannot start sentences with “And” or “But” and then used “By” instead of “But” to start a sentence, thereby turning the sentence into gibberish.

  • Chris

    The point of a conjunction is to join two sentences. It is not, will not, and should never be acceptable to start a sentence with a conjunction. This is day one composition stuff right here. The examples you provided are ridiculous. While reading “But I am still awaiting his reply” I could not help to think the preceding sentence would be something to the effect of I left Jim a voicemail today, and the following sentence would be your proposition of “But I am still awaiting his reply.” you are essentially telling people it’s okay to put a period in place of the coma in a conjunctive sentence and it’s okay. It’s not okay! It’s moronic at best. As Obama would say we won’t fall for that okie doke.

    I called Jim today, but I am still awaiting his reply.
    I called Jim today. But I am still awaiting his reply.
    I called Jim today. I am still awaiting his reply.

    Do you not see the problem with this???
    Why not just write “I am still awaiting his reply” or “she was running very fast” instead of making yourself look like you failed every English class from 9th grade and every subsequent English class from thereforth(and encouraging internet users worldwide to look foolish as you) by writing “And she was running very fast.”

    Did I just get trolled and not realize it??

  • Tim Higgins

    In most examples I read, “And” is superfluous. The sentences/paragraphs read just fine without it. I admit it can be useful in some cases so it’s not a rule of thumb imho

  • David John

    Can you begin what you write with “But”?
    It depends – if it doesn’t help the intended reader understand what you mean, that may be bad, unless you don’t want them to understand what you say or don’t care. But if you want to communicate, then just consider each case, case by case.
    All these comments are written but they refer partly or wholly to what has been written before. There are lots of times when there is no prior reference. On those occasions it is better to make your writing as easy to understand as possible. “But” refers to something – if we use it without clear reference, we may fail to communicate.

  • Rae T. Alexander

    I completely agree with using it sparingly. However, the idea of rewriting to avoid offending someone when writing a novel may be somewhat impractical.
    For example, I have characters that think. Then the reader reads their thoughts. On an occasion, there is a ‘but’ at the beginning. (But not often…oh so tempting here )
    Some of my characters are definitely not going to think in their head of the word ‘moreover.’ Oddly enough, some will.
    Bottomline, for professional documents, it is best to avoid. However, in a novel, style can rule.

  • Wendy Barnes

    Accommodate( not accommodate)

  • Wendy Barnes

    Peter J… I think you mean, alter( not altar lol)

  • Greg

    [I fixed a typo. Please publish this instead of the previous post. Thanks!]

    Those here who accuse the author of being an “ignoramus” or of trying to “altar” [sic] the English language are, in fact, themselves ignorant. Though the author begins with the incorrect assumption that beginning a sentence with a conjunction is a modern phenomenon, the practice has been accepted by literate and professional writers for centuries. As grammarist.com says, “That there is some sort of rule against sentence-beginning conjunctions is an old myth that never seems to go away despite the fact that it is not at all borne out in the writing of actual English speakers.” For example: “And even Mary could assure her family that she had no disinclination for it.” (Jane Austen) and “And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.” (John F. Kennedy)

    One of the leading authorities on writing style — the Chicago Manual of Style — says this about the subject: “There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.”

  • Michele Harper

    I have a question. Is there a comma after the “but” or “and” that begins a sentence? I recently had my manuscript edited, and it was returned to me with the editor inserting a comma after every coordinating conjunction that began a sentence. I thought there was no comma? Thank you!

  • Paul Sheehan

    People ask, “What are you conjoining if you start a sentence with ‘and’?”
    Here’s what we are conjoining: Thoughts, paragraphs, previously stated ideas etc.

    Sometimes, we even start a sentence with “and/but” to join UNSTATED sentences and ideas!

    People have been intuitively (and rightfully) using and/but to join “stuff” that’s other than “parts of one meagre sentence”. All of this is a glorious evolution of language communication. We must embrace and extend the role of conjunctions as joiners of ideas, unstated sentences, thoughts, paragraphs, entire books, hyperlinks etc.

  • Michael David Curley

    Should a person have mentioned grammar to myself at age fourteen years old, one would have laughed. That being stated, always intrigued by the origins of the individuals own learning curve. Complex as any language maybe. To have engaged in a a brief understanding of old written English based from Latin, then, contemporarily formed into what really is very much American style’d grammar provides a challenge in itself.

    English language as a whole, based on even words with usage of Australian from shows people watch has taken what we knew, versus the basis of what we already have. Fairly simple, and much like Spanish still is, backwards. “Had our storyteller have known”, being in contrast to. “The man that told the story, had no idea”. Examples such as are perhaps still covered at length in UK private schools. Few original grammar schools, passed state, exist, this ending around the 1970’s….

    Memories being like they are, remember attending a march to keep them open, with my mom. Alas an error in not having stated mother.

    Dyslexia, or mild cases of, such as my own, combined with this often left of trail often provides online disasters. Inset against that which could be classed as basic hereditary reasonings to place words into a backwards formation passed down as an English born generic trait.

    Ownership to error is accountable!

    Allowances for people whom have never yet desired its fate is a something. Arrogance often determines the guiding course to an out. Allowance to a gentleman to do so is essential.

    Without a prior basic knowledge of historical mistakes. Much like the French Foreign Legion, with it’s many joining numbers form ranks. Making sense of rigid reasons to structure, is vital uniformity.

    In terms of schools the same. Artistic licence however, has always provided, the error, the gaze, and the joke.

    My kindest regards in allowing myself to join this vivid conversation.

    Mr. But Nice Joke

  • Dale Kelleher

    In the English language, And and But should never start a sentence. The American language can do as it wishes, however, plagiarising the English language and continuing to describe American as any form of English, is misleading and rude. Just because America’s founders were poorly educated in the English language, it doesn’t mean everybody else should follow suit! If you want to call it English learn to write it correctly. There is no such word as color or mom or aluminum in the English language. The list goes on.

  • Luke Morse

    Here in Australia “although” is a subordinating conjunction; it begins a subordinate clause which requires an independent clause in order for it to function as it creates an incomplete idea.

    “Although I went to the store …” although you went to the store WHAT?! WHAT HAPPENED?! DID SOMETHING GO WRONG?!”

    (I apologise for the excessive use of interrobangs in the preceding.)

    It should also be noted that whenever a subordinate clause precedes an independent clause you must separate the two sentence fragments with a comma. Following this rule, your example would then read:

    “Although I am still awaiting his reply, I am not going to spend much time wondering whether or not he’s going to call.”

    LISTEN TO YOUR TEACHERS! We spent bloody YEARS studying these annoying rules!

  • Aaron Lee

    A sentence that starts with a conjunction such as “although” is a weak clause, which is incomplete unless it is followed by a strong clause.

    Using the example as presented above, it should be:

    Although I am still awaiting his reply I am not going to spend much time wondering whether or not he’s going to call.

  • Michele Lea

    Mark C.: In your personal rant you used “its and “it’s”
    incorrectly and correctly in the same sentence. That alone deflates some of your nonsensical ideas.

    Eric and Derby: I enjoyed your thoughts, and agree with them.

    There are few posts without grammatical and spelling errors; doesn’t matter what side they are taking and no matter how “intelligent” they sound. And (for emphasis) there are few forums that even agree on punctuation; contradictions and personal choice abound. The answer often is, that two ways are correct.

    I have enjoyed this thread. Thanks to all.

  • Kehbe

    Peter J, On August 26, 2008 1:05 pm you used the word ‘altar’ instead of the word ‘alter’. Surely you know the difference between the two forms. Altar is “any structure upon which sacrifices are made” and alter is “to modify in any way”.

  • Fleur

    I don’t like sloppy English, or text talk, whatever David Crystal says, but I do like to be able to sometimes start sentences with “And” – and split my infinitives. I can’t imagine great writers, Ernest Hemingway springs to mind, replacing the short and simple “And” with a cumbersome construction like “However” or worse “Furthermore”.

    This is 2013, not 1953, and such horrible English is for lower middle class grannies who cover their carpets in plastic sheets and have houses full of dralon and nylon.

  • Ste Graham

    The traditional English language is a beautiful thing. I can understand that evolution changes our language but does laziness constitute evolution?

    I blame “American English” for the devolution of our language and due to the sheer size of the United States, I fear it is inevitable. Their lack of true English education is apparent; I will always take pride in the fact that my vocabulary and the way I formulate sentences does not portray me as dumb.

    “There’ll always be an England!”

  • Joel

    For james-
    “as long as their is subject verb agreement” Huh? Ohhh, you mean ‘there’, not ‘their’. They’re actually two completely different words, meaning very different things.

    As for sentences beginning with and, but, etc., conjunctions, to me it was always a simple thing. It should read like it is spoken. Do you begin a spoken sentence with a conjunction? I don’t, and after many years of listening carefully to others, I submit that they don’t.

    True, some younger people today do, typically the ones that don’t know or care about punctuation, caps, or the differences between your and you’re, their/there/they’re, to and too and other similar textual tragedies. It appears that some may be trying to avoid run-on sentences by breaking them at the conjunction, and this reads just as it looks. Startling.

    I learned English happily, and while I cannot claim great sentence structure, or perfection in any of it, I firmly believe that it should be written as you would speak it. Today it’s becoming acceptable to begin sentences with and, but, etc., and to ignore the fact that to and too, for example, are different words. I’m ancient enough to have learned good English, and seeing how it’s devolving today, I’m profoundly grateful for my mortality.

  • Mark C.

    I for one, do not think the English language should be changed for any reason. Regardless of what language the country or, the individual we do business with may speak or understand. Too many things in the U.S are being, or have already been changed to accommodate non-english speaking migrants, or people witu different religious beliefs. God has been taken out of schools and courts, and soon to be removed from our currency. They’re starting to eliminate the Pledge of Allegiance from classrooms, sporting events, and any type of Racing. Our Language and it’s grammar, should be left the way it’s always been. If you don’t care to learn it, I’m sorry. If the tables were turned, and it was an English speaking person going to your country, that person would not have a choice but to learn the language of that respective country. If any English speaking American decides to move or visit another country, do any of you think for one nano second that the people of any given country would modify any part of their language, or grammer to accommodate you, just because you think their language is a bit intimidating. Not a ice block’s chance of staying frozen in hell. You either learn their ways, or your S.O.L.

  • J.L. Werewolf

    This little snippet of the internet reminds me of a linguistics class I took in college.

    Our beloved professor had a fond hatred for Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style” and he would use every opportunity to bash their rules on writing.

    “And” when he wasn’t espousing his views on Strunk as an “Illogical charlatan what has done more to destroy communication that to build it”, he was lighting other rules of English ablaze.

    Rules like this one… “Don’t use a conjunction to start a sentence.” I find this rule to be kindling on the greater fire that is the evolution of language.

    Language lives, it changes, it grows and the people who use it will optimize it as they see fit.

  • Eric

    As a general rule I don’t start a sentance with “and” but I have found it usefull for emphasizing questions (especially in business).

    Example: Will you be joining us for the 10:00 meeting and will you have your status report done?

    OR

    Will you be joining us for the 10:00 meeting? And will you have your status report done?

    Using “and” to start a sentance in the second example serves two purposes. Firstly, it breaks up what is being asked into two distinct questions. This helps to ensure that I get both parts of the question answered as it is clear that there are two questions being asked. Secondly, the emphasis on the importance of the second question is much more pronounced by starting that sentance with “and”.
    Simply removing the “and” from the start of the second sentance would be grammatically correct but wouldn’t convey the same emphasis on its importance and would read more like a survey than a pointed question.

    In the end, isn’t that why we learn proper English? So, that we can convey the subtleties of the spoken word through our writing?

  • Christine

    I think starting a sentence with but in an informal writing sounds okay, but I wouldn’t use it in formal writing.

    I am wondering though if a sentence that begins something like ‘But for the…’ is grammatically correct.
    “But for the rain I would have walked to school.”

  • Alex

    English, unlike French, has no formal rules, only common acceptance of usage.

    There is no authority for English that can conclusively state what is wrong or right. France does have this.

    And “Learnt” and “Amongst” are 100% correct in British English.

  • DaveS

    Given its origins and frenetic evolution via various interpretations and translations, I’m curious as to why the Bible is regarded as a paragon of English grammatical virtue…

  • Kisper

    While making a forum post, I questioned whether a sentence of mine was acceptable per the English language. Thanks for the letting me know through your clear and concise writing.

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