Start Your Sentences with And & But

Posted September 5, 2013 by Amanda Shofner in Writing / 6 Comments

start-your-sentences

Are you ready to break another grammar rule? Because I’m about to give you permission to be a rule breaker. Here we go.

Start your sentences with and & but.

(I’m using an ampersand because ‘and and but’ just seems wrong and this is my blog, so I do what I wanna.)

Yes. Start your sentences with and & but! It makes you sound more relateable.

Let’s backtrack for a second and discuss prescriptivism and descriptivism. These big words are important when it comes to grammar because traditional grammarians usually fall under prescriptivism. Prescriptivism meaning you prescribe a set of rules to follow and those rules are final–no arguments, no negotiation. Descriptivism, on the other hand, involves describing grammar as it’s actually used.

I fall somewhere in between the two, in case you’re wondering.

The reason I talk about prescriptivism and descriptivism (my eyes are going cross-eyed trying to type those words) is that the “never start a sentence with and or but” rule is one of those prescriptivist rules.

It’s what your strict English teacher told you in grade school. It’s what your grammar Nazis will tell you. It’s not how you write properly.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

We use both and & but to start sentences in speech all the time. It’s a speech habit that’s slowly crept into our writing habits. It happens. This is how language evolves. And in some cases, starting your sentence with and or but (like I just did) is perfectly acceptable.

Traditional grammarians refuse to believe that certain fixed meaning words, like conjunctions (and & but, or even or, and really all this repetition is ridiculous), can have other functions. Like starting a sentence. But we use these words to transition into a new sentence, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Why? Fighting the tide of language evolution is often useless.

Here are suggestions to keep in mind when you set out to break this rule:

• Starting your sentences with and or but is informal, so if your goal is to establish a connection with your reader, you should adopt informal writing patterns.

• Informal situations–like on your blog, in an email, or on social media–are the best places to break this rule.

• Formal writing situations may frown upon the use of and & but to start sentences, and it’s worth respecting your audience.

• If you do need to sound formal or you want a character to sound formal, don’t use and or but to start a sentence. Try however or in addition instead.

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6 responses to “Start Your Sentences with And & But

  1. I’m SO glad you wrote about this.

    Some of the kids I tutored would get in such a tizzy every time I told them it was okay to use “and,” “but,” and “because.”

    Granted, it can be hard to differentiate what’s okay and what’s NOT okay when we’re often being told to not write like we speak. Before I knew it was okay to use them, I always equated “don’t write like you speak” to “don’t be conversational” – which, of course, involved using “and” and “but” to start sentences.

    • When I taught grammar, I’d talk to my students about context. I’d say, “You’re going to hear it this way and you can say it or write with friends, but when you’re writing for [writing teacher’s name], you have to do it this specific way.”

      Because your audience and what’s expected of you is more important than what’s “right” or “wrong.”

  2. I think it’s totally useful to understand the rules entirely first and, once you know those, know exactly when and how to break them. I use and/but to start sentences on my book blog all the time, use them occasionally on my business blog, and let my conjunction flag fly on social media.

    It’s completely amazing to me how our written language is coming to match our spoken language for, really, the first time. And, as an aware descriptivist, it will be interesting to see how all of this use online will ultimately affect the language itself.

    • Yup. Know the rules to break them.

      I’m curious if language is evolving faster with the Internet. It’s easy to pick up new words or slang and run with them. I’d bet that how language online is already affecting our language. It goes back to making connections with people — writing like you speak is more approachable than writing like you do for school.

      On that note, Arabic is one language where the written and spoken languages are VERY different. (So much so that Arabic students learning English rock at speaking but fail miserably at writing, even when their grammar and vocab in speech is awesome.) It’d be interesting to study how the Internet is affecting their language.

  3. Thanks (slap), I need this. I’m one of those grammar nazis who finds it difficult to break away from propriety. I now realize why I’m having such a problem finding my voice in writing.

    • Shelley, it’s so hard to drop what you’ve learned is correct, isn’t it? One way around this is to mimic your speech patterns when you write. We’re usually a little more loose with the rules in speech and our personality shines better that way. 🙂

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