Starting sentences with 'and' and 'but'

Writing is all about impact. Choosing the right words, stringing them together in sentences that sing, within paragraphs that punch.

But writers like me are constantly criticised for the apparent sin I just committed. Starting a sentence with ‘but’. Or even worse, beginning a sentence with ‘and’.

“You can’t do that, it’s grammatically incorrect,” say the old-schoolers. “That’s not a sentence, it’s a fragment,” they chortle.

Well guess what? They’re wrong.

It might not be their style, but it’s not incorrect. And if I’m in the business of creating dramatic effect with words, I’ll use all the tools at my disposal.

You see, it’s particularly useful to start a sentence this way because it adds emphasis and has a forceful effect. The technique adds weight where a comma just can’t cut it.

The Americans went to the polls in November 2016. But who on earth imagined Trump would be president?

Using ‘but’ or ‘and’ at the start of a sentence is also an effective way of showing surprise…here’s something you weren’t expecting! As grammar expert, Richard Nordquist says, ‘there is no substitute for it. It is short and ugly and common. But I love it.”

The other argument in defence of the introductory conjunction is that it adds a human touch to your writing. Because that’s how real people speak. In bursts of enthusiasm. With the odd after-thought.

I just did it again. ‘Because’ at the start of a sentence is also said to be sinful by the purists. Again, they’re wrong. ‘Because’ links explanation or reason to a statement and delivers a logical conclusion. As long as you complete the thought bubble, there is nothing ungrammatical about beginning with ‘because’.

The use of introductory conjunctions is a perfectly acceptable way to write. Highly respected novelists and copywriters from around the world use the technique. Even Bryan Garner, the acclaimed author and “most trusted living usage expert of our day,” is a devotee.

Bryan is a man who seriously loves language. If he says it’s alright – which he does in Garner’s Modern English Usage – then it’s definitely OK.

Dump these well-drilled language superstitions and you will liberate your writing.