By Neal Whitman
Many people have been taught that it’s wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction, but nearly all major style guides say doing so is fine. Neal Whitman investigates why there seems to be such a difference between what teachers say and what style guides say.
Today’s topic is whether it’s OK to begin a sentence with and, but, or or. The short answer is yes, and just about all modern grammar books and style guides agree! So who is it that keeps saying it’s wrong to do it?
It’s Fine to Start a Sentence with a Coordinating Conjunction
And, but, and or are the three most common members of a group of words known as coordinating conjunctions. The question about whether it’s grammatical to begin a sentence with and, but, or or is actually the question of whether it’s grammatical to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. Here’s what some of the big usage guides say on the matter. The one that seems to get quoted the most is the Chicago Manual of Style, which says:
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.
Both Garner’s Modern American Usage, and Fowler’s Modern English Usage call this belief a superstition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (or MWDEU) says, “Everybody agrees that it’s all right to begin a sentence with and,” and notes that you can find examples of it all the way back to Old English. See More . . .
Some words in the English language are so overused that we don’t notice that they are incorrect or don’t even exist. A perfect example is irregardless. Many scholars maintain there is no such word as irregardless because regardless already means “without regard.” The -ir prefix is redundant.