As some of you may suspect, I’m not strong on the rules of grammar and usage. That’s why I’m delighted to introduce Allison VanNest and her team at Grammarly.
About once a month you can now expect an article on the more technical side of freelance writing. We begin with sentences starting with “And.”
Welcome aboard, Allison.
Is it ever okay to start a sentence with the word ‘and?’
“Absolutely not,” scowls your child’s fifth grade teacher, wielding his blood-red pen across that carefully crafted essay about wingless birds.
“Of course!” sings your favorite novelist, as she autographs your book with a purple-hued flourish.
Huh, you wonder, scratching your head with your own pen (let’s make it a calm midnight blue). Who’s right?
Okay, who’s right?
It is the novelist. So go ahead and toss that old-school rule in the bin, along with all your rough drafts. Why? Because this “rule” isn’t even a real rule – and it never has been. Don’t just take our word for it, however; check out this quote from the esteemed Chicago Manual of Style:
There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.
Ah ha! Take that, red-pen-wielding naysayers.
So… where did this non rule come from?
But then, why did the rule (er, non-rule) sprout up in the first place? We can only conjecture, but it may have something to do with the fact that the word “and” is meant to connect two separate concepts. Thus, using it to start a sentence implies that the writer is only paying attention to the second concept, as if the first concept was…well, never conceptualized in the first place. (The bald truth, of course, is that finding that first concept is as easy as looking to the preceding sentence.)
In actuality, the practice of starting a sentence with the word “and” is not just okay, but it also carries distinct advantages. For example, it can add a certain flair and emphasis to your writing, piquing the attention of the reader. When used in dialogue, it can add a dose of genuineness; after all, this is the way people talk (e.g. “We were sleeping on deck because of the terrible odors,” said one woman, shuddering. “And when I say, ‘terrible,’ I mean the worst thing you’ve ever smelled in your life.’”)
Using the word ‘and’ as a sentence-starter also creates an informal atmosphere, which is exactly what is desired in some types of writing – for example, the humorous personal essay. It lets the reader know that she can relax and put her feet up, so to speak.
Still, in a nod to the fifth grade teachers of yore, we must agree that there are some instances in which – rule or no rule – sentences are best started with a word other than ‘and.’ Leading with ‘and’ can sully formality, and can thus seem to impair credibility. A peer-reviewed journal article about the functioning of the hippocampus, for example, is a highly technical piece of writing that demands a stricter syntax – and trying to make it casual is akin to wearing high-top sneakers to a black tie dinner party. It’s not against the law…but it won’t earn you respect. (This doesn’t mean you can’t find examples of “And-sentences” in academic writing. You can. But they’re judiciously and infrequently used.)
In addition, too many “ands” can make you sound jejune. (“I assembled my spice rack. And I pulled out all my spices. And I put my tarragon on the new rack. And my black pepper.” Hmm. Sounds a bit fifth-grade, doesn’t it?)
Remember that dramatic can turn histrionic pretty quickly. Consider this example: “The author of the book is a perfect mom, a wonderful chef, and a master craftswoman. And I don’t know how she does it. And I don’t know if I’ll ever know. And I don’t know if I even want to know.” (“Freak out much?” sighs the reader, with a roll of the eye.)
So, yes. Feel free to start your sentences with “and,” the three-letter powerhouse of a conjunction – there’s nothing wrong about it. Just remember that the word “and” is grammar’s version of cayenne pepper; too much use can ruin the whole effect.
A self-proclaimed word nerd, Allison VanNest works with Grammarly to help perfect written English. Connect with Allie, the Grammarly team, and more than 550,000 Grammarly Facebook fans at www.facebook.com/grammarly.
Your turn: Are you surprised? Do you have a personal rule about the word ‘and’ and starting sentences? We’d like to hear from you in comments.