Can you start a sentence with 'and' or 'but'?

Examples of Starting Sentences with Conjunctions

  • And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house. I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But , this (President John F Kennedy)
  • I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But, this wasn’t it. It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But (Comedian Groucho Marx)
  • It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But, it is better to be good than to be ugly. (Playwright Oscar Wilde)

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Why don’t writers like it?

There are reasons though for why many writers, and indeed our teachers, don’t like us using a conjunction at the start of a sentence and that’s because it can result in fragmented sentences. A sentence fragment is a clause that doesn’t have all the three main components that a sentence needs to have, namely a verb, subject and complete thought. If a sentence is missing just one of these, it becomes a sentence fragment.

It can be easy to miss out on spotting sentence fragments, especially in your own work as they often look like real sentences.

Example: Or the one on the right.

As it’s on its own, this sentence doesn’t make sense. What is the or for? What was the other option in this scenario? To make it complete, we need more of the sentence.

This can be completed in one of two ways:

Correct: We could take the corridor on the left or the one on the right.

Correct: We could take the corridor on the left. Or, we can go to the one on the right.

It’s really that simple! Maybe it would have been easier if we have been taught to just write in complete sentences rather than telling us not to start a sentence with a conjunction at all. In fact, there is no rule anywhere that says we can’t start a sentence with a conjunction. That’s right; it’s not actually a rule!

Why do we use or in a sentence?

Or is a conjunction that connects two or more possibilities or alternatives. It connects words, phrases and clauses which are the same grammatical type: Which do you prefer?

How do you use or between questions? When someone asks two questions and uses “or” in between, there are two options: Put a comma/semicolon before the “or” that separates the two sentences and a question mark at the end; or make it into two questions.

Do you use comma after or?

Should you use a comma before or? The answer depends on how you are using or. Always place a comma before or when it begins an independent clause, but if it begins a dependent clause, don’t. … People often get muddled about whether to place a comma before conjunctions like and, so, because, and or.

Does means AND or OR? It means “and or or”. “And and or” is generally false in colloquial English since most people who use “or” actually mean “exclusive or” (xor, where something can be either A or B but not both). Therefore “and or or” is correct.

When Is It Okay to Start a Sentence with “And” or “But”?

So, if there is a time and place for everything—where is the proper time and place to use “and” or “but” at the beginning of your sentence?

The first thing you want to remember is that you’re using this word to connect two thoughts—so your phrase should be able to stand on its own. This means it has a clearly defined subject and verb.

If you remove your conjunction and you suddenly have a sentence fragment that doesn’t seem to make sense, then you need to rework your wording. Perhaps this means making your two sentences one—using “and” or “but” with a comma, rather than a period.

You should also take into consideration what you are writing. Different types of writing call for different approaches. The use of “and” or “but” at the start of a sentence sometimes brings a sense of informality. It might be right for your blog posts, whereas more formal coordinating conjunctions like “additionally” or “however” might read better in a white paper.

The bottom line is though, it’s never truly off limits. Sometimes it’s more impactful to be so precise and direct.

People Are Going to Argue This With You

Just as I once was a firm believer in the “never start a sentence with and or but” non-rule, you’ll come across enslaved souls who have been taught the very same non-rule. Where can they turn for confirmation and comfort? The Bible is always a good place. Refer them to Genesis Chapter 1 for sentences starting with “and.”

For a sentence starting with “but,” you may have to read a little further – all the way to Genesis 8:1: “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”

Looking around online, I see some arguing that using the Bible as a work of English literature is pushing the envelope. I beg to differ, but perhaps as the world’s greatest bestseller, it’s a bit too commercial for them. Let’s take them to the real authority: the notoriously stuffy and pedantic, Fowler’s Modern English Usage. It’s seen as the authoritative book on English Grammar, and if they won’t believe it, they’re never going to believe anyone.

If they’re trying to find a comeback, you can always help them out. But they won’t be impressed with the reference you give them because I’m ready to bet you anything they’ve never have heard of Quackenbos!

“A sentence should not commence with the conjunctions and, for, but, or however…. ” (George Payn Quackenbos, An Advanced Course of Composition and Rhetoric, 1854)

Let’s sum up that argument, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We have the Bible, a host of brilliant writers, and Fowler’s Modern English Usage vs… Quackenbos. I’ll see your Quackenbos and I’ll raise you an Albert Einstein. Oops, we’ve gone from law to poker. Please pardon the mixed metaphors. Of course, Shakespeare also occasionally mixed metaphors, but we’ll go into that another time, shall we?

Can You Begin a Sentence with These Words?

If you are one of those people who prefers to avoid people who begin their sentences with these words, and if you would like to further curtail your sentence-initial word choices, there have been a large number of other words that we have previously been told not to use in that position. Here is a smattering:

Do not begin a sentence with however or a similar unimportant word. —Jacob Cloyd Tressler, English in Action, 1929

Do not begin a sentence with “also” or “likewise.” —George Hitchcock, Sermon Composition, 1908

Or never begins a sentence, paragraph, or chapter. —James Brown, The American System of English Grammar, 1826

Never begin a sentence—or a clause—with also. —J. M. D. Meiklejohn, The Art of Writing English, 1899

Teach the elimination of but, so, and, because, at the beginning of a sentence. —Documents of the School Committee of the City of Boston, 1916

A sentence should not commence with the conjunctions and, for, or however…. —George Payn Quackenbos, An Advanced Course of Composition and Rhetoric, 1854

Use “And” and “But” for Impact

coordinating conjunctions
  • Mark and Dawn
  • (Here, “and” joins two nouns.)
  • Rich but sad
  • (Here, “but” joins two adjectives.)
  • Quickly or slowly
  • (Here, “or” joins two adverbs.)
conjunctive adverb
  • And = In addition
  • But = However
  • Or = Put another way
Read more about coordinating conjunctions

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