≡ Menu

Should Writers Begin Sentences With “And”? Grammar & Usage

I've been known to make this mistake.

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.

Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Paul V8

Two newsletters:
About Freelance Writing
Writing With Vision

{ 29 comments… add one }
  • jorgekafkazar

    “And” ? “Also,”
    “But” ? “However,”

    I see no problem as long as neither is the very first word in a piece.

    • jorgekafkazar

      Oops. The ? was a math symbol. Assume an equals sign, there.

      • Thanks for the clarification… I was ignoring the question marks.

    • To: Jorge–While it has been questionable whether to use “and-but-however” at the beginning of a clause, the usage of ‘also’ may be allowable, for ‘also’ is similar to ‘in addition to’. As a transitional clause, ‘however’ is acceptable with the semicolon. Although many writers use “and-but-however” at the beginning of a clause, I’d prefer to use it as a connection with a first clause.

    • And you know what, sometimes any of them might be the first word… why not?

      • I agree on this point, since its usage won’t change the desired meaning of a clause.

  • To me, since ‘and’ is a conjonction, connecting it with the first independent clause sounds more grammatically correct than relating it to a following phrase. Although ‘and’ may be accepted in informal writing, I seldom used it when I wrote. What has been taught for a composition class is also applicable for both formal and informal writing; hence, it becomes a matter of personal choice to start a clause with ‘and’. Well, writers of stunning novels, journalists, scholar books…have used it!

    • And Georges, languages changes.!

      • Thank you, Anne, for the response. I believe that our focus on the usage of these conjonctions is okay, especially for those who can convey many ideas and to whom grammar is important. By the way, I wrote a “Poetic Meditations”, which hasn’t been published yet, and I extensively write in my website in both socio- cultural and sports activities; I speak four languages, along with comprehension in Italian and Portugues. Finally, I should say that we had agreed on this useful usage of “some conjonctions” at the beginning of a clause.

  • Being a non-native writer, this was really a matter of confusion for me. And I am sure, most of the native writers even get puzzled on whether to use And in the beginning of a sentence or not. Nice article, Allison!
    Ron C. | SEO Copywriting recently posted..15 Metrics Every Marketing Manager Should Be TrackingMy Profile

    • I’m guessing this isn’t the only confusion you’ve had Ron! I’m saying that with a chuckle because I know our language is anything but easy.

  • jorgekafkazar

    I checked this in my copy of the Bakersfield Manual of Style, and it says it’s perfeckly okay to start sentences with ‘but’ or ‘and,’ after the first sentence. They even quote Shakespeare. Bubba Shakespeare of Oildale. “But soft, what lout through yonder winder breaks?” And there’s also an interesting entry regarding using prepositions to end sentences with. They include a story about the Texan who asked a passing academic at Harvard if he could tell him where the library was at. But that’s a story for another day.

    • And I’d never quarrel with the Bakersfield Manual of Style knowing where it is 😉

  • Wow, that’s a very insightful post. I tend to avoid using conjunctions in virtually all of my pieces for formality’s sake. I never knew that no rule against their use actually exists. Thanks for the info! 🙂
    Ricky L. recently posted..Work from Home Jobs for Moms TodayMy Profile

    • Ricky, I didn’t know there wasn’t a rule about this either.

  • Great topic! I wrote a similar post not too long ago.

    As some of the comments indicate, not all clients like this. If the client doesn’t specify a conversational style, it’s a good idea to ask.

    I’ve modified my contract so that the description of my services includes a blurb about conversational style.

  • I agree that using words like ‘And’, ‘But’ and ‘Or’ to break up a long sentence can be useful. You also don’t want to get too carried away with this. My advice is to use this sparingly and it will become a powerful writing tool.

    • didn’t someone say ‘moderation in all things’?

  • I start sentences with conjunctions frequently for the exact reasons Valerie mentioned. Sometimes it just sounds wrong to stretch a sentence. And splitting it without the conjunction loses the desired effect.
    Jenn Mattern recently posted..Weekend Reading: The Love of WritingMy Profile

  • @Anne… I would be surprised if some of my teachers gave up on starting a sentence with “And.” I don’t think my 8th grade teacher would go for it. Then again, I’m not sure if she’s still alive. Maybe. 🙂
    Amandah recently posted..Stop Wasting Time! Go from Ideas to Blog PostsMy Profile

  • Anne, I love this. I was actually chewed out royally by a client who chastised me for using “And” at the beginning of a sentence. Worse, she called me “unprofessional” for doing so. Yes, it was the last day I worked with her for that and other pretty awful goings-on. In my note firing her, I did quote that very passage in Chicago Manual. Not that it mattered nor that I cared, but I will NOT take being called unprofessional by someone who was clearly clueless. And cheap. But that’s another story. 🙂
    Lori recently posted..101 Resources to Rock Your Freelance Writing WorldMy Profile

    • And I’ve had a few folks mutter at me about it… I just ignore them.

  • And it would probably drive my English teachers NUTS to find out that I begin sentences with “and.” 🙂 I admit that it took some getting used to, but once I got over the fear of my English teachers finding out, I no longer stress out about starting a sentence with “and.”

    If bestselling authors and top freelance writers can use the conjunction at the beginning of a sentence I can too.
    Amandah recently posted..Stop Wasting Time! Go from Ideas to Blog PostsMy Profile

    • Or maybe those teachers, at least some of them, are giving up on this one.

  • Valerie Bolden-Barrett

    I frequently begin sentences with conjunctions. But there’s a good and a bad time to do so. I use conjunctions to break up long sentences or for emphasis. You know instinctively when it’s appropriate after writing the previous clause or sentence. You can’t do it too often, though, since it can make your writing voice sound choppy and amateurish.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Translate »