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Use “And” or “But” to Start a Sentence?

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If you want to make a good first impression with your readers, grammar is important. Even readers, who are bad writers themselves, can p...

If you want to make a good first impression with your readers, grammar is important. Even readers, who are bad writers themselves, can pick up on a sentence that is written poorly. To my regret, sometimes shame, I am very grammatically challenged. Because of this handicap, I have four grammar checkers. Three I use often, the four, because it is more difficult to use, I save for special occasions. I will write more about grammar checkers in future posts, for now, I’ll just say this, they do not like it when I start a sentence with “and” or “but.” I find that annoying, so when they flag me for starting a sentence with a conjunction, I usually check to make sure they really need the “and” or “but” and if I judge that it does, I leave it.

I do tend to be a lazy writer. That I have four grammar checkers may make it seem otherwise, but I need them because I am so lazy. Actually, I am just a lazy person, not that it matters here. But I have made a decision that I want to go further with my writing and to do so, I need to become a better writer. Improving my grammar is part of that.

So I finally got around to researching why my grammar checkers think it is wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction. Here is what one website says.

According to the website Copyblogger:

Regardless of how it began, you don’t have to stick with it. It is perfectly all right to start your sentences with “and” or “but.” It’s a great way to grab attention and emphasize a point. But, as in all things, take it in moderation.

I was right all along; it is okay to start a sentence with “And” or “But.” But should you?

Looking at some of my past writing, the reason for the rule becomes clear. It is too easy to use them. Using “And” or “But” is often the lazy way to connect ideas. Instead of using the natural flow of ideas and other word choices, it is often easier just to add an “And” or “But.” To improve their student's writing style, a good writing teacher could justifiably prohibit their students from starting a sentence with certain words, such as “And,” “But,” and “There.”

So when should you use “And” or “But” to start a sentence? And when should you use them to create a compound sentence? I believe the same guideline used for semicolons applies here. If the two clauses are closely related, perhaps one is actually modifying or limiting the other in some way, then you should create one compound sentence. If, however, the second clause is of equal importance to the first and perhaps taking the discussion in a slightly different direction, then the two clauses should be separate sentences.

I think this guideline has to be taken relative to what else is going on in the paragraph. For example, if the paragraph expresses four ideas, and three of the ideas are expressed with one clause each, but the fourth idea takes two clauses, then the two clauses of the fourth idea should be connected with a conjunction to make one sentence.

Writing and grammar are often about judgment. You have to judge what is best for your writing.

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Consider This:

It will not do to investigate the subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to infidelity. -Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President (1809-1865)

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The Evolving Monkey : Use “And” or “But” to Start a Sentence?
Use “And” or “But” to Start a Sentence?
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