Remember your high school English always reminding you that you can’t start a sentence with “and” or “but”?
Well, I’m here to tell you that you can start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, whether “and,” “but,” or the others.
It’s totally okay.
I believe, though, that starting a sentence with these words still looks and feels awkward and tingly for some people. So, it’s better to employ coordinating conjunction as sentence starters reservedly.
I have rushed into the discussion, haven’t I? Let’s from the beginning.
Is It Ever Ok to Start with “And” Or “But”?
Schools were strict with their stance on the correctness of using these particular coordinating conjunctions (“and” or “but”) as sentence starters. But this is an outdated rule, and it’s now acceptable—in most circles—for you to use “and” or “but,” just like I did with this sentence.
And that’s just me being nice, this rule never existed! In fact, I’ll just go ahead and do a whole section on the invalidity of this rule.
Did you notice that I started the last two sentences with “but” and “and”? did anything seem nonconformist with the way I started those sentences? My thoughts exactly!
Actually, “and” and “but” are just two members of a medium-sized coordinating conjunctions family (as I might have hinted in the introduction). There are 7 in total, and the rest are:
Although I’m just focusing on “and” and “but,” I just wanted to iterate that the rest of the coordinating conjunctions can be used to start a sentence.
Is It Grammatically Correct to Start a Sentence with Either “And” Or “But”?
I’m sure your teachers would always say, “no! no! no! This is grammatically incorrect! Use a conjunctive adverb instead.”
I’d agree with them, 50% of the time, probably. In some contexts, they were right.
But when is it grammatically okay to start a sentence with “and” or “but”?
Just like many other things in life, there is always a perfect time and place for starting a sentence with either “and” or “but.”
So where’s this perfect time and place to put “and” or “but” at the beginning of your sentence?
There’s one important thing you need to remember; if you start a sentence with either one of these coordinating conjunctions, you’re using these words as transitions. You are using them to link two ideas; therefore, your phrase needs one that stands on its own.
If your sentence can’t make sense on its own (without the “and” or “but”), you need to reconstruct it. You could merge the sentence with the preceding one and use “and” or “but” to indicate a transition within the sentence separated by a comma.
An excellent grammar teacher would tell you that it’s perfectly okay to use a coordinating conjunction to launch a sentence which is an independent clause.
I usually employ “and” or “but” as sentence starters in informal types of writing because I still believe that those non-indulgent grammar Nazis are a bit more relaxed reading informal texts than when they read formal ones.
What Can I Use Instead of “And” & “But” To Start a Sentence?
Your writing might be exposed to audiences that are a bit more sensitive to casualness that “and” or “but” represent. In this case, you might want to use substitutes that sound just a little bit more formal.
It is always good to consider your audience and the tone you want the text to have.
Under such circumstances, conjunctive adverbs like “however,” “nevertheless,” “moreover,” “thus,” “furthermore,” or “additionally” might just do the trick. They add that mite, enough to improve the professionalism nip of your writing.
It’s worth noting though, that in some contexts, using words like “moreover” or “furthermore” does sound too formal and stodgy. But in less casual contexts, like business writing, these alternatives are just perfect.
But it’s still up to you. Totally.
The thing is, “and” or “but” are more impactful and might relay your transition better than the other coordinating conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs. So, the choice is yours—do you want a more impactful transition or formality.
Bottom Line? There Is No True Grammar Rule That Says You Can’t
“It’s the teachers’ fault!”
On a serious note though, I don’t think the teachers were completely wrong. It’s just as a result of the mistrust they had for us students back then. They knew we could use “and” or “but,” but didn’t deem us creative enough to effectively use these words as sentence starters in our writing.
I think they—genuinely—were afraid to let us use “and” or “but” to start our sentences because they thought our writing would sound just like a 5-year old trying to explain a Spider-Man movie. I honestly think that was the initial worry.
So they went around slapping this non-existent rule on every innocent and ignorant student they could find. And boy did it scare us from using “and” or “but” at the start of our sentence.
Examples from Popular Book: Sentences Starting with “And” or “But”
What if I told you that Shakespeare, J.K Rowling, and Abraham Lincoln (Yes, POTUS 16) all used “and” or “but” as sentence starters?
I bet you wouldn’t believe me right away.
So, I picked some of these sentences to prove my case. There are just six examples here, but there are millions of examples used by famous authors.
The US Constitution Article. IV, Section 1
The Constitution of the United States also used “and” as a transition word that adds more information to the previous statement.
‘Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.’
Genesis, Chapter 1, The Bible, King James version
The book of Genesis is littered with “and.” I believe it’s because of the impactful transition that I talked about in the previous sections.
‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that [it was] good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And the evening and the morning were the first day.’
President John F Kennedy (POTUS 35)
‘And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.’
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling.
On page 3, Rowling employed “but” as a transition word
‘But on the edge of town, drills were driven out of his mind by something else.’
Hamlet by William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare also denounces this non-existent grammar rule in his play—The Tragedy of Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark.
‘Horatio: So have I heard and do in part believe it.
But look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill.’
Oscar Wilde (Playwright)
‘It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But, it is better to be good than to be ugly.’
Should I Put a Comma after “And” or “But”?
If you use these coordinating conjunctions to start a sentence, it means you’re using them like or instead of conjunctive adverbs such as “however,” “consequently,” or “therefore.”
A good question might arise: Don’t we need to put a comma after “and” or “but”? you know, just like we do with conjunctive adverbs?
Uh… it depends. Do you want to indicate a pause? Then there’s no other way than to use a comma. If you want the passage to flow with no pause or break then don’t use a comma.
Let me give other examples to illustrate this:
I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But, this wasn’t it. [Groucho Marx]
In this example, Marx puts a comma after the “But” to indicate a pause.
“But whether the interruption be slight or considerable, he must never omit one comma and leave the other.” The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
In this one, there’s no comma after the “But” and that’s an indication that there’s no pause.
This comma is not necessary, really. When you use a coordinating conjunction, it’s not relevant whether you put it there or not. However, with conjunctive adverbs, it’s a totally different case—it is advisable to use a comma whenever you employ a conjunctive adverb.
So yeah, it’s perfectly fine to use “and” or “but” to launch a sentence—and you can take my word for it.
Again, let me brandish the word of caution: always consider the audience and tone before starting sentences with “and” and “but.”
Remember when you want to sound more professional, go with conjunctive adverbs, and employ coordinating conjunctions when you write something a bit more informal.