I wrote a website for a fantastic recruitment consultant in Bristol a few months ago. And then out of the blue I received the following message from her:
“I have just noticed that there are a few occasions where the sentences start with the word ‘And’. Is this grammatically acceptable? I was always taught not to start a sentence with ‘and’. Although it does look acceptable!!! Your guidance is much appreciated x.”
Now this is nothing new. It’s nothing new at all. I’ve probably had a dozen or so similar questions over the last decade. So is it OK to start a sentence with ‘and’?
The simple answer is YES.
So why do we believe we can’t?
The only reason we believe that we can’t begin a sentence with the word ‘and’ is because we were told it at school. In reality though, there is no grammar rule that says you can’t. There never has been, and there never will be.
Listen to any young child recount a tale and countless consecutive sentences will begin with ‘and’, time and time again. Teachers just wanted us to think more creatively, finding new vocabulary and work-arounds to avoid them.
This was, and still is, a great idea, and one I’m personally thankful for. It wasn’t though an outright ban.
And ‘and’ is not alone either
In a similar way, I’ve also been picked up occasionally on starting sentences with the words, ‘but and ‘so’. What these words have in common with ‘and’ is that they are all conjunctions or coordinating conjunctions to be more precise.
At school we were told that these were ‘joining’ or ‘linking’ words, their role being to connect two related ideas or sentence structures together. For me, I’ve always just regarded them as a means of making my longer sentences easier to understand…
I’ll be honest and say that in reading around the subject, I learnt a new mnemonic, ‘FANBOYS’, presenting the first letter of all seven coordinating conjunctions that we have in the English language: ‘for’, ‘and’, ‘nor’, ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘yet’, ‘so’.
Yes, you can start a sentence with all of these words. It is not an error to do so. Neither is it somehow vulgar.
Plus there’s more besides
I’ve also been told that I can’t start a sentence with ‘however’ and ‘therefore’. Such words are conjunctive adverbs and have a similar role to coordinating conjunctions. Other examples are: ‘also’, ‘besides’, ‘certainly’, ‘furthermore’, ‘indeed’, ‘likewise’, ‘meanwhile’, ‘nevertheless’ and ‘similarly’. And there a load more too.
Such ‘transition’ or ‘interrupter’ words are a bit more ‘mobile’ than coordinating conjunctions in that they don’t have to sit between the two ideas. Again though, you can start a sentence with these words as well. And it’s not a mistake.
So what difference does it make?
But after all that’s been said, what difference does it actually make using words like ‘and’ at the beginning of sentences? Does it really make any difference at all?
Well, as a copywriter I have to say that it can make quite a big difference. Firstly it makes it more informal, more natural perhaps and engaging. It can also make the copywriting more direct and help to emphasise a point.
Consider the following simple examples:
Rob was always busy and he couldn’t find the time to write his own articles.
Rob was always busy. And he couldn’t find the time to write his own articles.
He didn’t talk about conjunctions, but he wrote an article about them anyway.
He didn’t talk about conjunctions. But he wrote an article about them anyway.
There’s nothing wrong with any of the above. However, they do read differently and have a different impact. I will often say that a conjunction-led sentence can make copy flow better, equally though it can add a deliberate abruptness or drama. They can add a pause and/or a punch.
So is it a problem then?
If your business has it’s own communication style guide that formally outlaws the use of conjunctions at the beginning of sentences. Or if you’re writing a more formal document, like a white paper, a business report or a text book. Then, using a conjunction at the start of a sentence might be a problem.
Plus of course. just like anything else, doing things in moderation is always wise. Too many sentences beginning with a conjunction and the writing can become a little too fragmented or staccato in nature.
Think of your target audiences. If using the odd conjunction-led sentence makes your communication with them clearer and more effective, then just do it.
My elder sister is a career primary school teacher, so I just texted her and asked whether we’re still telling kids not to use ‘and’ and ‘but’ at the beginning of sentences. Yes, she replied.
My older niece is a recent university graduate in creative writing, so I texted for her views on the matter. She tells me at school she was told not to, while at uni she was told ‘it can help to control pace in story-telling and endear informality’.
At the same, I also read that some of our greatest novelists, including Austen, Bronte, Nabakov and Twain, all used sentences beginning with conjunctions. And certainly if you open any newspaper or magazine you’ll find them there as well.
So you’re not being a rebel if you use a conjunction to start a sentence. You’re not wrong. It’s just contrary to what you were once taught. And more creative freedom’s always a good thing, right?