Punctuating “So” at the Beginning of a Sentence

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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.

Related posts:
Beginning a Sentence with And or But
Can And or But Begin a Sentence?
Can You Start Sentences with “And” or “But”?

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24 thoughts on “Punctuating “So” at the Beginning of a Sentence”

  1. I’m guilty of using “so” to begin a sentence. I use it so much that it annoys me. I’m trying to cut down, but I don’t know how. It would be helpful if you could show how you would rewrite the given examples without so. I find “so Augustus adopted Tiberius” is the most natural way of saying it. Thanks.

  2. Good article, but I’m left wondering about a detail.

    In reasoning out an argument, where “so” points to a conclusion, I can see that “so” doesn’t need a comma after it. But in quoted conversation, I feel it’d be useful for conveying the pause that many speakers would make in their speech.

    “So, you feel that I’m not telling you the truth,” said John.

    Any opinions on that?

  3. I’m with M. Perry about using a comma when the tone of reported speech calls for it. Overall, however, I think it’s best to minimize using “so” at the start of a sentence. It’s become a verbal tic and it’s overused by many. Harry Shearer airs samples of overuse on “Le Show” sometimes, and it’s comical to hear people—usually young and nervous—starting every sentence with “so” during interviews.

  4. I’m in agreement with the NYT on this usage. To paraphrase, “so” has become something like a verbal tic; it appears in people’s speech relentlessly instead of “um” or its variants and is then imitated in writing, where it is typically unnecessary. When editing, I take it out; its use, moreover, can add a childish effect to the writer’s text, which I imagine nobody intends or wants.

  5. I think with this type of thing it entirely depends on the effect intended. Certainly it can be a tic, like “like” or “ya know”, and in such cases it would only be appropriate in writing as dialogue. But also in written English it is a legitimate device, I think, to convey something akin to informality-for-effect in addition to simple childishness. So there’s that.

  6. Just as AND refers to an additional I feel even SO, BUT would not start a sentence but rather supplement the previous remarks. For instance in that example given above referring to the interview. So how was the interview. The questioning person was already aware of the interview. Thanks

  7. Starting a sentence with the conjunction “so” is mindless. It shows, that the speaker is not prepared to answer/ reply to anything. To me it’s annoying listening to a person start their speaking this way. Especially those individuals in a position of authority/training. Those individuals sound as though they have no idea what they are talking about. Notice I didn’t use that word once !

  8. The use of the word, so, to begin a conversation becomes more irritating every time I hear it. Supposed well educated and people in authority continue to verbally address others with the first word, so. There many words in the English language to use and many ways to begin a conversation, such as, “I would like to visit with you about the Smith-Jones case, do you have a minute”? Or, Hi, are you busy or do you have time talk to discuss benefits? Not ever, So, I talked Miss King and she said she was going to a meeting at 3.

  9. Beginning a sentence in conversation with the word “so” makes the speaker sound stupid. The usage creates the impression that the speaker wants to sound intelligent. It reminds me of every idiot who years ago prefaced sentences with “basically” as if something illuminating was about to be revealed.

    It is just filler. And it’s driving me nuts. Please just stop it or I will continue to cut you off with my interjection of “…so your mamma what?”

  10. The problem is that ‘so’ at the beginning of answer that is not cause and effect makes you sound like an IDIOT.

    ‘why did you park in the garage?’ ‘so that my car does not get wet.’ [correct]


    ‘when did you get that car?’ ‘so, i went shopping yesterday and saw it on the way home.’ [all of our IQ’s just decreased 1.8 points, reading that; sorry]

  11. Starting a sentence with ” SO” indicates to me that a previous statement was made or a conversation with another party. It lets me hanging ! So, I wonder what was said before.

  12. The conjunction “so” when used in the sense of “therefore” is not an error.
    But (!) take, for example, examples, often heard in political commentary when a specific question is asked and the word “so” is used, almost like a start gunshot in a track and field race, to begin the sentence with no reference point at all to conclude a previously expressed thought. To use “so” in another manner seems incorrect.
    Example of incorrect usage:
    [Reporter]: What do you think about the recent Congressional debate on prison reform?
    [Congress Person]: So, the White House has proposed legislation for prison reform; we think there will be bipartisan support for upcoming legislation.

  13. While I can appreciate somewhat that “so” has become a “verbal tic” (As if we need more stressors to concern our self-awareness with, in this burnout age, when we just want to speak the way we feel.) Never beginning a sentence with “so” in dialogue sounds robotic. I most notice it when trained customer service foreigners speak to us on phones. They are never casual in their vernacular, and thus come off cold, superficial, and non-relatable. This is especially the case when they fall short of the knowledge or solution we seek. I believe language ever evolves and this should be acknowledged. Not all words mean what they once did. Our expressions evolve also.

  14. To not use the terms “so” or “basically” deprives the communication feature of human beings some pleasure in simple, “get-to-the-point” jest, humor and wit.

    Spelling it out for overcomplicated persons will not help you get promoted in any institution EXCEPT a school or university. It is not real world advice. In fact, I’ve found, speaking “by the books” keeps you out of ranks, and speaking with humor pulls you up the ranks.

    One comes off as one who “overthinks” or has “OCD” when one tries to keep language THAT strictly Latinate.

    I had to evolve and become more casual, and that’s what corporate America seems to appreciate more is most cases. And I’m still considered “pompous” by the way I speak in average terms.

    I have embraced the casual approach, because it pays me. So it must be preferred my most everyone else, as well.

  15. Starting a sentence with the conjunction “so” is, for me, synonymous with liberal elites. When I hear it used it is normally a signal to me not to listen to what a person is saying.

  16. Starting a sentence or reply with “so” or “basically” drives me NUTS! My ears close and mind shuts down. It’s usually used by people trying to sound intelligent

  17. Hearing “So” before nearly every sentence, especially on the TV during interviews lately, is driving me crazy !
    I wish people would stop doing it.
    My mind shuts down and I ignore whatever they say after it.
    Why can’t they just say “um” if they are thinking of what to say ?
    Very annoying.

  18. For me, this is a question of how “So” is being used to begin a sentence. In most instances where I see it used in the fiction books I edit, it’s in a quote being spoken by someone. In that context, I would punctuate it to indicate how it would be spoken. Most people pause momentarily after saying it when they’re beginning a sentence: “So, I hear that…” Their voice inflection also tends to drop on the word to indicate that they’re about to drop a juicy piece of gossip they’ve heard.

    But if you were using it at the beginning of a sentence as a synonym for “Thus,” I wouldn’t tend to use the comma: “So Caesar proceeded to the Forum…”

  19. The issue comes in what different people think “so” is, or at least in how they use it. It is true that “so” is a conjunction, but that does not mean it is nothing else. The examples you gave have two different uses of the word in my mind. The example with Caeser is using “so” as a conjunction meaning “due to the previous.” Another use of “so” which would be punctuated the same way is to mean something like “in this way.” For example, “My grandma always taught me to dust very carefully. So I proceeded as I cleaned the large castle.” An example of this usage mid-sentence would be, “As a man would lead his favorite ox, so I led Israel with my ropes of love,” (Hosea 11:4 The Living Bible). A third function of “so,” which I believe does merit the use of a comma, is as an interjection. Your first example, “So, how was the interview,” likely does not follow a cause like, “I know that manager, and she always has a stick up her butt. So [that being the case], how was the interview?” Thus, it would be inaccurate to consider it a conjunction. Instead, “so” is used as a way of setting the tone (interested, awkward) or expressing some emotion as an interjection does. Take as an additional example “fine.” “Fine” has many definitions, none of which I know to be labeled as an exclamation or interjection. However, it is common for a person to kick off a statement or respond to a situation using the word not to indicate the quality of something but to indicate a reluctant turn in position. Some people even start of their statements with words like “pearls” that don’t relate to anything in the situation but are used simply as a vehicle for tone. When we use these interjections, they do that require some punctuation (exclamation point, period, comma) follows.

  20. I find the amount of disdain being thrown around to be both elitist and… just…what’s the word? Oh, yeah. PISSY.

    If you write, write. And stop being a jerk trying to tell everyone else how they should write. If you read, read. And if you don’t like what you are reading, read something else.

    THAT’S the beauty of a language which is an amazing amalgamation of so many other languages, and that has been in constant evolution since the first words were written.

    You can disagree with something, and even offer constructive critism on how it should be done correctly, or better, or to fit in with your view of what is best… all without telling folks that they are stupid or ignorant or whatever other debasing thing you can spew.

    There are certain rules to be followed. I delight in the help a good editor provides in keeping me to those. But there are other rules to be debated, and still others to be broken. So, again, disagree… but maybe do it in a civil fashion so you don’t seem like a pompous ass.

    So there.

  21. I always try to think and reason in a logical manner in order to come to a solid conclusion. For, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so are conjunctions that are often used to join independent clauses. They each follow the same rule and that is to put a comma before the conjunction when joining the independent clauses. Another common “rule” conjunctions follow is when they are used to begin a sentence there is no comma following the conjunction. “And they began to race.” “For he was a happy lad.” “But no one could cook as well.” “Yet here we are, standing in the place we swore to never return.” So as with the other conjunctions, the rule applies to “so” at the start of a sentence.

  22. The word “look” has become another annoying GO TO word as a first word in a sentence when replying to a statement or question, especially by political figures. Like they are going to school you .

  23. Using “so” at the beginning of speech or writing is simply unnecessary. It adds nothing; similar to “that”. Simply remove the word(s), adjust the grammar, and nothing is ever lost.

  24. A young man here at work begins EVERY sentence with ‘so’. It makes me want to get a flamethrower. I even tried giving it back to him so he’d realize, but it didn’t work!
    Him: So…where did you go for lunch?
    Me: (looking down at my clearly labeled Wendy’s bag) So…I went to Wendy’s.
    Him: So…did you get anything good?
    Me, deliberately: So…not sure yet, I haven’t started eating.

    He didn’t even flinch. GAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

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