Can you start a sentence with “and” or “but”?
As a writer, I often find myself in situations when I want to use “and” to start a sentence. But you’re not supposed to start a sentence with a conjunction – right? Yet I was very surprised when a piece of academic writing was returned to me with a comment along the lines of “don’t use ‘however’ to start a sentence when a simple ‘but’ will suffice”. But … But … But … Isn’t that wrong? I thought to myself. Well, apparently, it’s not. So, was it ever a grammar rule? Or is it a rule we’ve manipulated with contemporary approaches to language? And won’t someone think of the conjunctions?!
(Did anyone count how many times I started with a conjunction in that paragraph? How many times do YOU start a sentence with a conjunction?)
The words “and” and “but” are conjunctions – they are words that connect sentences, for example:
I like chocolate. I also like wine. = I like chocolate and wine.
I like chocolate. I don’t like white chocolate. = I like chocolate but not white chocolate.
This article examines conjunctions more closely with a special note on using conjunctions at the start of sentences which states:
A sentence beginning with and or but will tend to draw attention to itself and its transitional function. Writers should examine such sentences with two questions in mind: (1) would the sentence and paragraph function just as well without the initial conjunction? (2) should the sentence in question be connected to the previous sentence? If the initial conjunction still seems appropriate, use it.
That means that yes, you can start a sentence with “and” or “but” as long as you consider the function of the word and the message you intend to give through its use. Is it breaking grammar rules? No, it’s not. The rule against starting a sentence with a conjunction is considered to not actually be a formal rule at all – maybe it was once, but it no longer applies. This article demonstrates appropriate ways to use “and” or “but” at the beginning of a sentence, and suggests:
One theory for the perplexing prohibition is that teachers were trying to encourage their young students to form complex sentences. By not allowing the use of either conjunction at the beginning of a sentence, students were forced to think about their writing and not simply string together a series of simple clauses.
– “Can And or But Begin a Sentence?” by Jacquelyn Landis
While you shouldn’t start every sentence with “and” or “but”, there’s nothing wrong with doing so – assuming you do so in moderation and with consideration for the use of the word and its position in the sentence.