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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Grammar Done Right - Beginning a Sentence with a Conjunction by Keren Reddick

Just as there is widespread belief that you should not end a sentence with a preposition, there is also no historical or grammatical foundation that you should not begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.

A coordinating conjunction you’ll remember is for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. Once again, I could find no substantiated evidence that beginning a sentence with a conjunction is an error and is mainly taught to avoid writing fragmented sentences.

GRAMMAR TIPS from The Red Pen Editor

If you decide to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, keep these points in mind:

  • Be sure that a main clause follows the coordinating conjunction.
  • Use a coordinating conjunction only when it makes the flow of your ideas more effective.
  • Do not use a comma after the coordinating conjunction. Coordinating conjunctions are not considered transitional expressions like in addition or for instance.
  • But used as an adversative conjunction can sometimes be unclear at the beginning of a sentence. You’ll need to evaluate whether the but in question contradicts the preceding statement and see whether and is really the word you want. If and can be substituted, then but is almost certainly the wrong word.

    Examples:
    He went to work this morning. But he left his briefcase at home.

    Between those sentences is an indirect idea, since the two actions are in no way contradictory. What is implied is something like this:

    He went to work, intending to give a presentation, but he left his briefcase behind.

    Because and would have made sense in the original statement, but is not the right word.

    Correct: He went to work this morning. And he left his briefcase at home.

  • Although you will find many examples of commas following but at the beginning of a sentence, I would follow Keren Reddick's warning and avoid doing this.

    Please note the date of the sample writing, 1611.
    FROM the (new) legal writer by Raymond Ward
    Occasionally I come across an adult who still thinks it’s improper to start a sentence with a conjunction. Others think that starting a sentence with a conjunction is an innovation and should be done only sparingly, if at all. For those folks, I offer this passage from the King James Bible (circa 1611). I’ll put the passage in blue and the first word of each sentence in red.

    And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

    Luke 2:6–14.

    By my count, there are nine sentences; eight of them begin with a conjunction.


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