Disclaimer: English Kinda Thing

The sole purpose of the "English Kinda Thing" is to document my attempts to correct my own mistakes in standard English usage and to share the resources I find. In no way do I attempt to teach nobody English through these blurbs--just as I intend not to teach nobody to be a neurotic and psychotic handicap in Ratology Reloaded or Down with Meds! :-)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Begin sentences with conjunctions (and, but, or, etc)?

Apparently, some people were taught in school to never begin a sentence with conjunctions such as "and," "but," and "or."   It must be my old age or I didn't pay enough attention to my dear teacher when in school... I totally had no idea about this one as well until this issue was revealed to me.

Then, when going through my writing in DWM, I found this incurable propensity of mine to start sentences with conjunctions such as "and," "but," "or," etc.  To cut down on the changes I have to make on the utterances of da moi du temps passe, I decided to look for trusted sources to support such usages.

Based on what I have gathered so far, there is nothing wrong about starting a sentence with conjunctions such as "and," "but," etc.  Moreover, so it says on the Oxford Dictionaries website: "many respected writers use conjunctions at the start of a sentence to create a dramatic or forceful effect" and "[use] 'and' to start a sentence, typically for rhetorical effect."

Cambridge Dictionaries Online also has a dedicated section on using "so" to begin sentences and provides numerous examples (though don't know whether it's British style only?):

  • used at the beginning of a sentence to connect it with something that has been said or has happened previously
So, there I was standing at the edge of the road with only my underwear on ...
  • used as a short pause, sometimes to emphasize what you are saying
So, here we are again - just you and me.

The following quote of Charles Allen Lloyd in his book, "We who speak English and our ignorance of our mother tongue," was cited in the Chicago Manual of Style (5.206: Beginning a sentence with a conjunction) and various other sources (e.g., Garner's Modern American Usage, Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage):
Next to the groundless notion that it is incorrect to end an English sentence with a preposition, perhaps the most wide-spread of the many false beliefs about the use of our language is the equally groundless notion that it is incorrect to begin one with “but” or “and.” As in the case of the superstition about the prepositional ending, no textbook supports it, but apparently about half of our teachers of English go out of their way to handicap their pupils by inculcating it. One cannot help wondering whether those who teach such a monstrous doctrine ever read any English themselves.

Bryan Garner also provided additional quotes by other authors who intended to debunk the notion of "Never Begin a Sentence with And or But" in his 2009 book "Garner's Modern American Usage" published by the Oxford University Press.

However, writers do need to make sure what comes after the conjunctions are "complete sentences."  Some authors speculated that one reason why teachers try to dissuade pupils from starting sentences with conjunctions is to prevent pupils from constructing incomplete sentences (e.g., "I have a cat. And a dog.").  Apparently, it might be easier to stop young pupils from beginning sentences with conjunctions than to explain to them that complete sentences are required after these conjunctions. (See "Can I begin a sentence with a conjunction?" on Dictionary.com and "conjunction beginning a sentence" on Random House website.)  At the same time, dictionary.com does mention on their website: "In formal writing, it is best to avoid beginning any sentence with a conjunction." (Pourquoi?  Je ne sais pas. Just a recommendation, I guess? 8-O)

So it is.  What I learn to date on the issue of "beginning a sentence with conjunctions."  Hope hope I learn is of some help to you, too!

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