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Can I start a sentence with a conjunction?

People ask me all the time about the no-nos of grammar, and do they fall under black, white, or some shade of gray?

The issue of placing a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence causes much confusion. Can we do it?

All major style guidebooks agree: Yes, We can!

Yet most people have learned at one time or another that this constitutes a serious breach of linguistic protocol.

All right, to explain this let’s travel back in time to visit a typical 19th century schoolmarm.

Perhaps all of her students drove her mad, beginning every sentence with and. Perhaps she reasoned that starting a sentence with and or but actually creates a sentence fragment. For whatever reason, she and her colleagues decided to teach children never to begin a sentence with a conjunction. And lo and behold, many of us to this day still have lingering doubts about this perfectly legitimate usage.

Coordinating conjunctions include for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so. Use the mnemonic fanboys to remember them.

Bear in mind, though, the distinction between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. We call the first group coordinating because they treat two clauses with equal weight:

Everything has beauty, but not everyone can see. ~ Confucius

Here the two clauses (everything has beauty, not everyone can see) bear equal weight in the sentence. Coordinating conjunctions include for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so. Use the mnemonic fanboys to remember them.

Place one of these babies at the front of your sentences with impunity. For example let’s take Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep….” Frost has no trouble beginning a sentence with but, and neither should you. Just remember that using the same word, any word, to begin several sentences in one paragraph is irritating, and bad style.

Lo and behold, many of us to this day still have lingering doubts about this perfectly legitimate usage.

But the on the other hand let’s take subordinating conjunctions: as if, because, although and when. We use these when one part of the sentence (the main clause) bears more weight than the other (the subordinate clause) Use these with care. Consider a bad example:

It all started suddenly. When Maria came back into Joshua’s life.

Because when is a coordinating conjunction, this example sounds stilted and uneducated in separating these two clauses with a period.

Nonetheless, we may start a sentence with a subordinating conjunction if it joins two clauses coming afterward. Let’s take the following example:

When a person cannot deceive himself, the chances are against his being able to deceive other people. ~ Mark Twain

This sentence makes a far better impression, not just because Samuel Clemens wrote it, but because the subordinating conjunction when joins two clauses: When (1) a person cannot deceive himself, then (2) the chances are against his being able to deceive other people. The second clause, “the chances are against his being able to deceive other people,” is the main clause of the sentence (bearing more weight), whereas “a person cannot deceive himself” is subordinate.

So (see what I did there?) go forth and use fanboys with confidence, and subordination conjunctions with care!

Schoolmarm

Schoolmarm

Permanent link to this article: http://goldenkeyscribes.com/blog/can-i-start-a-sentence-with-a-conjunction/

4 comments

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  1. Betty K. Burgess

    Starting a sentence with a preposition makes it a sentence fragment. It means that the clause is ont connected to any other clause.

    For example: I study Rembrandt, and I play his music.

    That’s a good sentence, two sentences joined by “and”.

    I study Rembrandt. And I play his music. That is a good sentence plus another, incomplete sentence part, starting with “and”, which should be a part of another sentence. I think we shouldn’t really take liberties with the language, and I think a story with sentence fragments, run-on sentences and comma splices would never get published, or else it would have to ba work of staggering genius otherwise.

    1. ScribblrScribe

      I respect your opinion, Betty; to each her own!

      It might be revealing to check out this link, though:

      http://www.merriam-webster.com/video/index.php?id=0055-oldschoolgrammar&pid=mw_video

  2. Janice

    Is it OK to start a sentence with a preposition?

    1. ScribblrScribe

      Sure!

      Just consider the first line of the Bible:

      “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

      If that’s not a classic example, I don’t know what is!

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