If your high school English teach was anything like my teacher, she/he probably always emphasized the “rule” about NOT using conjunctions to begin your sentence. “You must never begin a sentence with a conjunction” is the mantra of many an English teacher. Just because “everyone” says it is a rule does not necessarily mean it is true, though. In fact, many a grammar “expert” will tell you that this arbitrary rule does not hold much sway.
I can go on and on and repeat that I believe that using conjunctions such as “but” and “and” to begin a sentence is correct, but I know that you will want some concrete proof supporting this belief. Let me turn to Jack Lynch ((Jack Lynch’s Guide to Grammar and Style)) once again:
Contrary to what your high school English teacher told you, there’s no reason not to begin a sentence with but or and; in fact, these words often make a sentence more forceful and graceful. They are almost always better than beginning with however or additionally. Beginning with but or and does make your writing less formal; — but worse things could happen to most writing than becoming less formal.
He touches on two important things above. One, it is perfectly okay to use but or end to begin your sentence. Two, you have to be aware that doing so will make your writing less formal. I go back to a point that I have raised many times – when writing, you have to bear your audience in mind. If you are writing for a personal blog or a magazine article, less formal is perfectly suitable, isn’t it? On the other hand, if you’re working on a business plan, for example, you might want to take on a more formal tone. If you ask me, that should end the discussion on whether or not to use but or and to begin a sentence.
There is one more thing you need to know about using but or and to begin your sentence:
Note, though, that if you open with but or and, you usually don’t need a comma: not “But, we did it anyway”; it’s enough to say “But we did it anyway.” The only time you need a comma after a sentence-opening conjunction is when you want to sneak a clause right between the conjunction and the rest of the sentence: “But, as you know, we did it anyway.”
I am now biting my lip as I write because I tend to add that comma! You see, this is another reason I love writing for the Grammar Guide: every now and then, I have to unlearn some things that have become habits over the years. If you find yourself starting your sentence with and or but, don’t cringe. Remember NOT to use a comma after the conjunction, though.
You might also want to take a look at the other post I wrote about split infinitives and ending a sentence with a preposition.
Photo via Phillip Martin