You’re starting a sentence with and, and your detail-oriented friend suddenly erupts with “Pssh! You can’t start a sentence with a conjunction!”
Strange. You weren’t aware starting sentences with conjunctions was verboten.
Even your English teacher did it. So, it must be okay, you argue.
“Nope. It’s not correct,” your friend insists. Except your friend is WRONG!
Okay, that was a sweeping generalization (much like what your friend said).
But there are plenty of situations where it’s completely fine to start a sentence with and.
You’ve heard the expression, “Pause for effect”?
Read on to see how that applies.
What Is a Conjunction?
Anytime you’re writing something you want to sound as natural as a conversation, you’ll probably use conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence.
- I could vote by mail. Or I could vote early at the county government center.
- Girl, you look fantastic. And I want to know where you found that dress.
- He’s so sure of himself. Yet he still wants me there for moral support.
After all, conjunctions are linking words. They bring words and phrases together. It’s a beautiful thing. But some types of conjunctions are more welcome at the beginning of a sentence than others.
Conjunctions come in three different types:
Check out each type’s list of conjunctions to see examples and to understand what sets them apart.
Coordinating Conjunctions link equal parts of a sentence, whether those parts are clauses, phrases, or nouns in a series. Neither part is dependent on the other.
The conjunction links them — either after a comma within a sentence or at the beginning of a subsequent sentence. You’ve probably seen a lot of sentences that begin with one of these.
- And — “And I’m not even sorry.”
- Or — “Or why am I even here? (Why are any of us here?)”
- But — “But you didn’t, did you?”
- Nor — “Nor am I the one who snuck out of the house with your Chia pet!”
- Yet — “Yet I’m here, just as I promised.”
- So — “So don’t even ask me where I’ve been.”
- For — “For he was the unhappy victim of a curse that compelled him to begin every sentence with the word ‘for.’”
Subordinating Conjunctions are different. They link two parts to show that one is subordinate to or depends on the other. Use these incorrectly, and you have a sentence fragment. When you look at the following examples, you’ll see why.
- Because — “Because I wasn’t even there.”
- Since — “Since I quit drinking.”
- After — “After I bruised my tailbone.”
- If — “If only I’d been there that night.”
- Although — “Although he never told me.”
- While — “While I was away.”
- Once — “Once upon a time.”
Used this way, the subordinating conjunction makes us feel like something is missing. And it is. Here’s where it helps to know a key difference between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions:
- Coordinating conjunctions have to go between the two linked clauses.
- Subordinating clauses can go before both of them.
Subordinating conjunctions need to join two things: a word, phrase, or clause subordinate to the second thing — an independent clause.
- Because — “Because I was sick, he asked me to stay home.”
- Since — “Since then, I’ve been giving her space.”
- After — “After this, we should celebrate with tacos.”
- If — “If only I’d been there that night, I could have helped her in time.”
- Although — “Although he never told me, I knew exactly what happened.”
- While — “While I was away, he hacked into my smart home settings.”
- Once — “Once upon a time, two princesses left the kingdom on a quest.”
Of course, when you’re writing dialogue, these rules don’t apply. In English, people speak in fragments all the time:
- “Because I said so.”
- “Since forever.”
- “If only.”
Correlative Conjunctions work in pairs and join together words or phrases with equal importance. In any of the following examples, they don’t create a complete sentence, but you might find phrases like these in dialogue:
- Either / or — “Either the red dress or the black one”
- Neither / nor — “Neither the beach nor their favorite restaurant”
- Not only / but also — “Not only the best mom but also the best chef I know”
But any of these pairs can begin and continue a complete sentence, as you’ll see below.
- Either / or — “Either you leave, or I call the police.” / “Either vanilla or chocolate ice cream will do nicely.”
- Neither / nor — “Neither she nor her boyfriend will be joining us.”
- Not only / but also — “Not only did he make dinner, but he also had a bouquet delivered to my door.”
More Related Articles:
Can You Start a Sentence with And or But
Thanks to a deeply-ingrained “rule” so many of us learned in grade school, it’s not hard to find articles and forums dealing with questions like “Can you use but at the beginning of a sentence?” and “Can you start a sentence with or?”
It’s also not hard to find people who will spot your sentences starting with conjunctions and tell you, “That’s wrong!” You’ll also hear, “Just because so many other people do it doesn’t make it okay.”
But, when it comes to living languages like English, it kinda does.
Fact is, there’s no actual grammar rule that forbids beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. True, you might see it less in formal, technical, or academic writing (especially English grammar textbooks).
But that doesn’t mean it’s grammatically incorrect.
In most of what you read — from blog posts to nonfiction books to journalism, speeches, and literature — you’ll find plenty of sentences beginning with a conjunction.
The Chicago Manual of Style has this to say about it:
“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.”
Besides, there are good reasons for starting a sentence with a conjunction. Sentences that drag on can be confusing. And sometimes, you need a longer pause between connected thoughts.
When it comes to subordinating conjunctions, as long as the word, phrase, or clause introduced by it is followed by an independent clause, you have a complete thought — not a fragment.
Here are some more examples with the subordinating conjunctions in bold:
- “As soon as they left, I had another slice of cake.”
- “Before I promise anything, I need to hear him say the words.”
- “Only if you promise to clean the kitchen will I cook this evening.“
- “Unless I finish early, I won’t be able to attend the wedding.”
- “Whenever he looks at me that way, I get the strangest feeling.”
Correlative conjunctions have to occupy a specific place in a sentence for the words, phrases, or clauses they link together. And as long as you have an independent clause after the second part of the conjunction, you have a complete sentence.
- “Either he goes or I go.”
- “Not only did she get out of bed, but (also) she cleaned the kitchen.”
- “Neither he nor she will tell me what happened that night.”
- “Both her doctor and her boss agree she should stay home.”
- “Whether they win or lose, they’ve given me hope.”
More Conjunction Questions
Here are a few other questions you might run across or think of while writing.
#1 — Can you start a sentence with yet?
“Yet” is a coordinating conjunction, and yes, it can come at the beginning of a sentence, though it’s less common than starting a sentence with “and” or “but.”
Just make sure an independent clause comes after it.
- Incorrect: “Yet again.”
- Correct: “Yet she never complained.”
#2 — Can you start a sentence with when?
“When” is a subordinating conjunction, so you follow the rule to ensure you’re not creating a fragment:
“When” + <word, phrase, or clause)> + <independent clause>.
- Incorrect: “When I called to check on him.”
- Correct: “When I called to check on him, he didn’t answer.”
- Correct: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Now you can comfortably start a sentence with and or but.
Now that you have a better understanding of when you can start a sentence with a conjunction — and how to do it correctly — you can write with more confidence.
When in doubt, it’s better to consult a style guide that reflects modern English usage. Your grade school teachers did their best. But even they know they’re not infallible.
Yes, you’ll still run across people who will tell you it’s “not correct” to start a sentence with a conjunction. Feel free to direct them to this post. All are welcome here.