17 May Starting sentences with ‘And’, ‘But’ and ‘So’: the definitive answer
Several times each year, we get challenged about starting sentences with ‘And’, ‘But’ and ‘So’.
“I was taught at school that it’s not good grammar.” “My boss says it’s wrong.” “It’s too informal.” Stuff like that. So several times each year, we dial up our emotional intelligence settings to 11 and explain that it’s not really wrong, it helps make copy nice and punchy… but of course style is very personal and we can of course leave it out if that’s what you would prefer.
But we’ve been trading for ten years now. We’ve had enough. This is where we drop the emotional intelligence and get mediaeval on the question. (Which is quite appropriate as people have been starting sentences with And for centuries).
Here is our cut-and-paste response, which will henceforth be delivered without preamble to anyone who asks ever again.
Starting sentences with And But and So is just fine. Full stop. Period.
But don’t just take our word for it. How about the word of God? It’s good enough for Him. More sentences in the Bible begin with ‘And’ than any other word. And of course the King James edition begins with the sentence: “And in the beginning…”
Other towering figures have no problem starting sentences with conjunctions either. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (edited by Sir Ernest Gowers) says:
“That it is a solecism to begin a sentence with and is a faintly lingering SUPERSTITION. The OED gives examples ranging from the 10th to the 19th c.; the Bible is full of them.”
Fowler’s applies the same rule to ‘but’.
In his popular writer’s handbook Troublesome Words, author Bill Bryson concurs, saying:
“The belief that and should not be used to begin a sentence is without foundation. And that’s all there is to it.”
But why do it? So you can make copy active and lively. Advertisers have been at it for years. Check out these 1950s advertisements touting the wonders of gas appliances.
It’s all very well for cheesy old gas advertisements, I hear you say, but surely it has no place in proper businesslike writing? Several large and very proper corporations, together with some very proper business publications, would beg to disagree.
Economist articles are full of sentence-leading ‘Ands’ and ‘Buts’. There are several in this randomly selected Charlemagne piece.
A quick ferret around FT.com will soon turn one up (its paywall makes direct linking irrelevant for the unregistered).
Two minutes fossicking around on the website of blue-chip consultancy PwC (disclosure: not a Plain Text client – yet) will quickly reveal a few too.
And there are many more. Everyone’s doing it.
So in sum: if it’s the style you don’t like, then by all means shove ‘And’ But’ and ‘So’ somewhere else in a sentence. But don’t worry that it’s the wrong thing to do. God, Sir Ernest Gowers, Bill Bryson and some of the smartest publications and corporations in the world are all totally cool about it.