They Say You Shouldn’t Start a Sentence With a Conjunction. But They’re Wrong.

Take a look at the following sentence: And the landmark Supreme Court case recognizing constitutional protection for same-sex marriage will result in significant filing and planning opportunities for millions of individuals.

See anything wrong with it?

When I sent out a draft of Plante Moran’s year-end tax guide for review last week, I received the following comment: “I generally do not like starting sentences with ‘and.’ What about ‘In addition,’ or something similar?” Then, PMer number two weighed in: “Agree on the use of a conjunction to begin a sentence. How about, ‘The recent Supreme court ruling resulting in….’?”

When I saw that second comment, I responded back to both of them: “My next blog is going to have to be on why it’s okay to start sentences with a conjunction.” PMer number two responded, “And…I believe that would be an excellent article!”

Let’s see, shall we?

And Now for Something Potentially Surprising…
It’s perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction (words like “and,” “but,” “or,” “for,” “yet,” and “so”). Really. There’s no grammar rule that states otherwise, and you can find examples of it dating all the way back to Old English. The Bible is full of them:

  • And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
  • And God saw the light, and it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
  • And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

According to the internet (which is never wrong), all but two of the verses in the first chapter of Genesis begin with “and.” So there you have it. Apparently God wants you to start more sentences with conjunctions.

But it doesn’t stop there. Here are a few examples from some of my favorite authors:

  • “And when I think about that, I think that if nothing but being married will help a man, he’s hopeless.” (William Faulkner, “As I Lay Dying”)
  • “Yet each disappointment Ted felt in his wife, each incremental deflation, was accompanied by a seizure of guilt.” (Jennifer Egan, “A Visit From the Good Squad”)
  • “But when I got here and sat out there on the porch, waiting for you, well, I knew it wasn’t the place I was heading toward; it was you.” (Toni Morrison, “Beloved”)
  • “And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it.” (Stephen King, “Different Seasons”)

Out of curiosity, I did a quick search of quotes from 20 of my favorite books. How many of them started sentences with conjunctions? All of them.

But There Must Be a Reason for the “Rule”
There is. According to linguist and author David Crystal, “During the 19th century, some schoolteachers took against the practice of beginning a sentence with a word like ‘but’ or ‘and,’ presumably because they noticed the way young children overused them in their writing. But instead of gently weaning the children away from overuse, they banned the usage altogether! Generations of children were taught they should ‘never’ begin a sentence with a conjunction. Some still are.”

I was no exception. I can still hear my fifth grade teacher, Miss O’Connell, lecturing on that particular evil; I can also hear my high school teacher, Mr. Thompson, assuring me that rules are made to be broken. But since this was never a rule in the first place, we’re all in the clear.

So how about you? What are your feelings on starting sentences with conjunctions? And another thing: have you read any of the books mentioned above? I’ve talked at length about how much I love “Different Seasons,” but “A Visit From the Goon Squad” is also worth a read.

Word of the Week:  Conjunctivitis
Song of the Week: “But Not Tonight,” by Depeche Mode

 

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