Proofreader News — it’s fine to start sentences with conjunctions AND or BUT

I’m finally getting around to sharing some proofreader news regarding the use of “And” or “But” when beginning a sentence.

Guess what? It’s all right to do so!

And you should. <—-See how I did that?

I can’t begin to list the number of times authors have asked about this topic, and now I have a blog post to point them to. I hope this information is helpful during your writing journey as well.

I’m a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), an excellent UK-based organization for editor and proofreader news, accreditation, and continuing education. Just today (October 6, 2020) they announced on Facebook:

proofreader news

And so with a nudge from the CIEP, here we go. <—-See how I did that?

Your English Teacher was Wrong. Imagine That!

We’re used to starting sentences with conjunctive adverbs such as “However,” “Nevertheless”, “Furthermore,” “Thus,” etc.

We are usually less inclined to use the coordinating conjunctions “And” or “But” at the beginning of sentences.

Why?

Well, we were taught in school that it’s improper. I had an English teacher who considered it an unpardonable sin!

But regardless of what Mr. Mueller said when I was in eighth grade (<— see how I did that), tone, mood, writing strategy, appropriateness, dialogue, characterization and more are considerations as you roll out sentences.

Question: How do characters naturally speak in a novel?

Answer: Using “And” and “But” at the beginning of sentences.

Question: what makes readers most comfortable, relaxed and in tune as they delve into your book?

Answer: writing in the familiar (closer to how we actually sound when we speak — natural speech).

And yes, there are times when it is totally appropriate to “lighten up” and be less formal, even in non-dialogue writing and nonfiction writing. It depends on usage and how you wish to impact readers, perhaps in a memoir or autobiography.

“And” or “but” can absolutely add impact and dramatic effect to a manuscript. It would be a waste to limit these two conjunctions solely for the purpose of joining elements within a sentence. They can be used to link one sentence to another with a touch of tension, a flare of suspense, a pinch of contrast, or to emphasize a twist.

“No! Don’t go out there. You’ll freeze!” exclaimed Inez, shivering near the dying embers.

“But you won’t.” Paloma wrapped herself in a blanket and ventured into the blizzard in search of firewood. “Freeze, that is. I’ll make sure of it,” she hollered over her shoulder.

About those Commas…

Do not use a comma after “And” or “But” at the start of a sentence.

I know, I know… that may feel counterintuitive.

Why?

There’s a difference between a conjunctive adverb and a coordinating conjunction — that’s why. One requires a comma while the other does not.

Conjunctive adverbs take a comma (however, moreover, etc.) Without a comma, the sentence in red below is obviously incorrect.

Correct: However, she disagreed with the statement. √

Incorrect: However she disagreed with the statement. X

Coordinating conjunctions “and” and “but” are different animals and DO NOT require a comma.

Correct: But he was suspicious and avoided her. √

Incorrect: But, he was suspicious and avoided her. X

Correct: And there you have it — an explanation. √

Incorrect: And, there you have it — an explanation. X

Proofreader News in the Style Guides

Notable authorities support the use of “And” and “But” at the beginning of a sentence — some more than one hundred years old and one as old as the Bible. This notion isn’t new… it’s just more accepted today than in the classrooms and prose of the past.

Adams Sherman Hill, a journalist and Harvard rhetorician, argued in The Principles of Rhetoric (1896), “Objection is sometimes taken to employment of but or and at the beginning of a sentence; but for this, there is much good usage.”

According to a usage note in the fourth edition of The American Heritage Dictionary, “But may be used to begin a sentence at all levels of style.”

In The King’s English, Kingsley Amis says “The idea that and must not begin a sentence or even a paragraph, is an empty superstition. The same goes for but. Indeed either word can give unimprovably early warning of the sort of thing that is to follow.” 

New Hart’s Rules (Oxford University Press): “You might have been taught that it’s not good English to start a sentence with a conjunction such as and or but. It’s not grammatically incorrect to do so, however, and many respected writers use conjunctions at the start of a sentence to create a dramatic or forceful effect.”

Chicago Manual of Style Online, 5.203 (Chicago University Press): “There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.”

The Bible, Genesis 1:2 — “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

According to Grammar Girl, “Many people have been taught that it’s wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction, but nearly all major style guides say doing so is fine.”

The Author is in Charge

Remember, editors support authors by doing their best to correct grammar and punctuation. Some editors are hired to do line-by-line editing or developmental editing as well. However, the bottom line is that each manuscript belongs to an author who may override your advice.

I generally suggest corrections twice, and if overridden by the author, move on through the manuscript. Therefore, you’ll still see books on the market that include a comma after “And” and “But” at the beginning of sentences, or avoid the usage altogether.

Have a question on usage and grammar? I can help! Contact me at melanie@melaniesaxtonmedia.com today!