Saturday, September 16, 2023

Breaking the Taboo: Starting Sentences with "And" or "But"


It’s a piece of advice that many of us have heard throughout our educational journeys: "Never start a sentence with 'And' or 'But'." Such a rule has been a staple of traditional English teaching. Is this rule etched in stone, or is it more flexible than we've been led to believe? This article will delve into the reasons behind this convention and offer a fresh perspective on the matter.

Historical Perspective

The admonition against beginning a sentence with "And" or "But" can be traced back to teachers of bygone eras who, in an attempt to prevent fragments (incomplete sentences), propagated this guideline. It was easier to tell students to avoid this altogether than to explain the nuanced situations in which it could work.

However, if we peruse classic literature, scholarly articles, or even the Bible, we'll find numerous examples where sentences begin with "And" or "But."

The Modern View

In contemporary English, especially with the movement toward more conversational and less formal styles of writing, starting a sentence with "And" or "But" is widely accepted. Here's why:

  1. Emphasis & Pacing: Beginning a sentence with "And" or "But" can give emphasis, indicating a clear addition or contrast to the previous point. It can make the reader take notice and prepare for an essential piece of information.

    Example: "The book was long and the language archaic. But the story was captivating."

  2. Flow & Rhythm: It can enhance the rhythm of a piece, making it feel more natural, especially in dialogue or first-person narratives.

    Example: "I went to the store. And guess who I ran into?

  1. Clarity: Sometimes, it just makes more sense to start a new sentence with "And" or "But" for the sake of clarity.

    Example: "She said she would come. But she never did."

When Not to Use "And" or "But" at the Start

  1. Overuse: Like any stylistic choice, overuse can lead to a monotonous or choppy structure.

  2. Lack of Relation: Ensure that the sentence following "And" or "But" is related to the previous one, maintaining coherence in thought.

    Incorrect: "I love ice cream. But my dog is very playful."

  3. In Formal Writing: In very formal or technical documents, it might be preferable to use alternatives or restructure the sentence.

Guided Exercises for Authors

Exercise 1: Identify whether the usage of "And" or "But" at the beginning of the sentence is appropriate.

  1. I can't play the piano. But I can play the guitar.
  2. I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower. And my shoes are blue.
  3. He promised he'd save a piece of cake for me. But when I arrived, there was none left.
  4. The cat scratched the couch. And she hid the remote.

Exercise 2: Rewrite the following sentences without starting with "And" or "But."

  1. But despite all the challenges, she persevered.
  2. And after all that, he simply walked away.

Exercise 3: Create a paragraph on any topic. Ensure you use "And" or "But" at the beginning of at least two sentences.


The English language, rich and dynamic, constantly evolves. While respecting conventions is essential, it's equally important to understand the rationale behind them and recognize when it's acceptable to deviate.

Starting sentences with "And" or "But" can be effective for emphasis, flow, and clarity. However, authors should use this technique judiciously, ensuring the content remains coherent and the style doesn't become monotonous.

In the end, writing is an art form. And sometimes, bending the rules can lead to the most beautiful creations. But always remember to do so with purpose and intention.