Punctuating “So” at the Beginning of a Sentence
A reader remarked on my punctuation of so at the beginning of several sentences in a recent post:
No commas after “so” as you have used here in your examples!
Here are two of the offending sentences:
So, how was the interview?
So, what should we do now?
These examples appear in a discussion of a use of so that is common in spoken English. The written form I gave them represents a style of casual speech. It’s questionable if so can even be called a conjunction in contexts in which it is difficult or impossible to discern what thoughts are being joined.
Formal written English treats the punctuation of so at the beginning of a sentence differently. Some speakers feel strongly that the conjunction so shouldn’t begin a sentence at all:
I almost fainted when I read the email about the acceptability of beginning sentences with [a conjunction].
I’m firmly in the camp that believes starting a sentence with a conjunction is an error.
Although such feelings persist, authorities like The Chicago Manual of Style do not share them:
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.—CMS, 5.206.
In formal writing, in contrast to a casual style, a so that begins a sentence is not followed by a comma.
Lucius Caesar died at Massilia in 2 CE.; two years later, Gaius Caesar succumbed to a wound he received fighting against Armenian nationalists. So Augustus adopted Tiberius as his son in 4 CE and got him tribunician power and consular imperium for ten years.
Note: If a beginning so is followed by a parenthetical expression, a set of commas is needed:
So, misinterpreting Ragland’s order, Nolan told Lucan to send the Light Brigade on a frontal attack against the Russian guns.
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