8

Personally, I use “but” and “so” to start sentences, but not “and” and “because”.

Today I was talking to a friend of my brother on this matter, who is in 6th Grade. He takes tuition from a private tutor who told him that in early days using “and”, “but”, “so” to start a sentence was okay, but now-a-days it is becoming obsolete and that we should not use them to start a sentence. He is a reputed teacher here and he keeps track of current affairs. (He is the one who told me, when I was his student, that “will” is being used after “I” now-a-days and I followed the advice.) So I could not deny this information. Tried to find in Google about this but no source made me think it is trustworthy. So I would like to know this in StackExchange,

What is the actual rule and is this rule being changed?

PS- I don't use “because” to start sentences but I always had a doubt. So I added it!

11

There is a frequently taught "rule" that sentences should not start with any of the coordinating conjunctions, i.e. and, or, but, yet, so, for, and nor. There is no actual grammatical rule as such, however, simply because such a rule doesn't make any sense. In fact, even the most ardent prescriptivists are likely to agree that starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is perfectly fine.

However, there is a reason that this so-called rule is taught. The goal is to avoid sentence fragments such as:

*He went to the store. And bought milk.

It is much easier to forbid starting sentences with a coordinating conjunction than to explain exactly how sentence fragments work, and this is how this "rule" came about. A perfectly fine sentence that does begin with a coordinating conjunction is, for example,

He went to the store. And having seen the milk, he bought it.

The word because is liable to similar errors; for example,

*He went to the store. Because he was hungry.

Like the coordinating conjunctions, it is perfectly fine to begin sentences with because, so long as you keep in mind that the goal is to avoid fragments. For example, the following sentence is perfectly acceptable.

Because he was hungry, he went to the store.

  • I agree with all of this, but you might want to emphasise that a simple (single-claused) sentence can start with a co-ordinate conjunction, but not with a subordinating conjunction, except colloquially/informally. The difference is that your example of a very informal (asterisked) and is only informal because it lacks a subject: and bought milk; however, because he was hungry is still very informal, even though it has a subject. So there are two issues here: 1.) a simple sentence starting with a subordinating conjunction, and 2.) a sentence without a subject. – Cerberus Jan 27 '13 at 7:56
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SUPPLEMENTARY TO waiwai933’s ANSWER

There is another reason teachers deprecate starting sentences with conjunctions. In oral cultures (which includes children learning to write) there is a very strong tendency to start every sentence in a narrative with the same conjunction.

(Historically in English this has tended to be and, which you’ll find for instance in Malory, and which is supported by the traditional practice of Bible translators; when I was growing up in Alabama it was usually so.)

This is what grammarians call a discourse marker, and it serves two purposes: on the one hand to mark the forward flow of the 'action', and on the other to give the speaker an opportunity to collect her thoughts and frame the next sentence before uttering it.

But literary discourse does not require such continuous marking, so teachers are eager to stamp out its use. The easiest way to do so is to erect and enforce a ‘rule’ forbidding beginning sentences with conjunctions.

Such ‘rules’, however, are designed for instructional purposes. Once you have mastered them, you are no longer bound by them: you are free to begin a sentence with a conjunction whenever it will lend literary force to your composition.

3

As others write, this is very discouraged in learner's English, because it results in badly-formed short sentences starting with conjunctions instead of making them a single, longer sentence.

But in advanced writing, this is perfectly acceptable; you write a long sentence or a set of sentences, which have their own conjunctions, and their own structure, and form them into a thought. And then you start another thought, starting with a conjunction, which places its own long sentence or string of sentences with their own conjunction in a certain relation to the previous thought, so that it serves as braces: (s1 and s2 or s3, but s4 is s5). But (s6 is s7 such as s8). So, in conclusion s9.

So, in conclusion, starting sentences with conjunction is nothing bad by itself. It's abusing full stop before a conjunction where a comma, semicolon or a dash should go instead, that's the actual error.

  • 1
    +1 for starting not only a sentence, but an entire paragraph with "But". – Matt Feb 10 '13 at 0:37
  • And another with "so". – Jay Dec 31 '13 at 17:33
2

Because it often shows that the overall structure of your paragraphs lacks some coherence, you should try to avoid starting sentences with such words.

And I forgot to mention on the other hand, it is a means to display good mastery of the underlying logic of your thought.

So it all depends : in my first paragraph, it's fine because it's just a way to emphasize the reason using inversion within the sentence ; in my second, it's akward because I ought to link both parts a lot better than that ; in my third, I let you judge.

  • 1
    @Downvoters : Wow for speed-dislike, but would you mind helping me improve it ? Comments welcome. – Nikana Reklawyks Jan 27 '13 at 8:04
  • I agree; this is a decent enough attempt to embed some examples within the answer itself, which a technique I use rather often. But people will be people. – J.R. Jan 27 '13 at 10:29
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This is one of those rules that English teachers teach and enforce when grading papers, but that has little real value. Like, "Never use a preposition to end a sentence with" and "Be sure to not split infinitives". When someone asks why there is such a rule, the usual answer is a blank stare followed by, "Because that's the rule!!"

As others have noted, sure, you can abuse the use of conjunctions at the start of sentences. "I went to work today. And I got a cup of coffee. And I sat at my desk. And I turned on the computer. And the phone rang." The "and"s serve no real purpose; they're unnecessary filler. But if we rule out everything that has the potential to be abused, we'll have nothing left. I had a teacher in college who said that you should never use semi-colons because most people don't know how to use them correctly. I thought this an astoundingly dumb rule. Wouldn't it be better to, umm, learn to use them correctly?

I frequently break very long and complex sentences at conjunctions like "but", "because", or "so" for readability. Sometimes the only way to obey the "don't start with a conjunction" rule is to make a sense that is so long and cumbersome that by the time the reader gets to the end of it he forgot how it started. Or clauses can become confused. For example, if you write "A and B or C" it can be unclear whether you mean "A and B, but if not both, then C" or "A and also either B or C". You can solve the problem with extra words, but sometimes just breaking it into two sentences makes it clear in a more concise way. Beginning a sentence with "and" may make clear that this is a continuation of a previous thought and not the start of a new thought. Also, if you are tempted to start a sentence with, for example, "but", but to obey the rule you combine it with the previous sentence, that may change the meaning. Now you are saying "the first part of this sentence BUT the second part", which is not at all the same as "the previous three sentences BUT this sentence". Etc.

The trick is to use this particular construct well and appropriately.

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