Friday, October 6, 2023

The Controversial "And" and "But": Rethinking Conjunctions at the Start of Sentences


For years, budding authors have been advised to avoid starting sentences with conjunctions like "And" and "But." This grammar guideline hails from strict classroom doctrines, which some consider a golden rule of writing. But is it time to challenge this convention? Let's dive into the arguments against starting sentences with these words and also explore when it might be appropriate to break this rule in novel writing.

Historical Background

The resistance to beginning sentences with "And" or "But" can be traced back to classical Latin teachings, where such a construction was uncommon. This linguistic preference transferred to early English instruction, leading to the widespread belief that starting a sentence this way was informal or incorrect.

Arguments Against Starting with "And" or "But"

  1. Flow and Cohesion: Traditionalists argue that using "And" or "But" at the beginning of a sentence can disrupt the flow of a paragraph. They believe these conjunctions work best when linking ideas in the same sentence.

  2. Formal Tone: Academic and formal writing has often shunned this construction, labeling it as colloquial. Beginning a sentence with "And" might be seen as too casual for a serious narrative.

  3. Clarity: Detractors say that starting with these conjunctions can sometimes lead to fragmented or run-on sentences, leading to confusion.

  4. Overuse: One legitimate concern is over-reliance. If every other sentence in a paragraph starts with "But" or "And," it can become repetitive and wearisome for readers.

Challenging the Convention

However, literature has evolved, and so have the styles and rules that govern it. Many modern authors and linguists now consider the "no starting with And or But" rule antiquated. Here's why:

  1. Emphasis: Beginning a sentence with "But" can provide a dramatic turn or contrast to the previous statement. "And" can amplify the momentum of the narrative.

    Example: "He said he would never leave her. But he did."

  2. Natural Rhythm: People often speak in ways that don't align with strict grammatical rules. Starting with "And" or "But" can make dialogue feel more genuine and relatable.

    Example: "And why would I do that?" she retorted.

  3. Flexibility in Fiction: Novel writing, unlike academic prose, allows for stylistic liberties. It's an art form, and like all art, it evolves and resists strict boundaries.

    Example: Several bestselling authors, including J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, have used this construction effectively in their works.

  4. Linguistic Evolution: English is an ever-evolving language. What was once deemed incorrect can become widely accepted, especially if it enhances clarity or reflects common usage.

Striking a Balance

While the old rule can be broken, it's essential to be mindful:

  1. Purpose: Always have a reason for starting with "And" or "But." Are you aiming for emphasis, contrast, or natural flow?

  2. Avoid Repetition: As with any stylistic choice, variety is crucial. Overusing this construction can lead to monotony.

  3. Know Your Audience: If you're writing a historical novel with formal dialogue, frequent sentences starting with "And" may feel out of place. Tailor your style to the genre, setting, and characters.


The debate around starting sentences with "And" or "But" underscores a broader tension between linguistic prescriptivism and descriptivism. While rules and conventions are essential in providing structure and clarity, they must also adapt to changing norms and the inherent flexibility of creative writing.

For novelists, the ultimate goal is to communicate effectively and immerse readers in the story. If that means breaking some outdated rules along the way, so be it. After all, in the words of the iconic Pablo Picasso, "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist."