You Can Start a Sentence With ‘And’ ‘But’ or ‘Or’

When I was growing up, English teachers drove a specific rule into our developing writer brains: Do not start a sentence with a conjunction.

This, my friends, is incorrect.

In case you need a little grammar brush-up sesh, a conjunction is a word that connects phrases or clauses. “And,” “but” and “or” are the three most common, but the English language has seven conjunctions, which you can remember with the acronym FANBOYS:

For
And
Nor
But
Or
Yet
So

It’s okay to shove any of those right up to the front of a sentence. It’s okay now and it has been okay as long as humans have been writing. Ever read the Bible?

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

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Plus, Grammar Girl—whom I trust implicitly—says basically every modern grammar book and style guide agree that it’s fine. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style says this about it:

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.

Perhaps at some point the practice of conjunction-sentence-starting was seeming to get out of hand and teachers felt they had to ban the practice altogether. Abstinence vs. moderation, if you will.

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That was an overreaction, and we’ve all suffered for it.

What should you not do, though? You should not go crazy tossing commas after these conjunctions when you use them at the start of the sentence. But, maybe you really feel like one should go there. And, you would be wrong.

The exception, in my opinion, is with the word “so.” I like a little comma action when I start a sentence with “so.” And this guy at Just Publishing Advice agrees with me:

For me, the word so at the beginning of a sentence is a conjunctive adverb like therefore. So, I would use a comma in both instances.

So, I missed the 5:26 pm train, and then 5:55 pm, but finally made the 6:25 pm train.

Therefore, there I was, stood up and stranded for the second time.

But for the other six conjunctions, you would not normally use a comma.

However, Lifehacker Deputy Editor Alice Bradley disagrees with me and that guy; she is very much anti-comma-after-so.

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So I’m just going to drop this little sentence here—with a comma!—to see what she does.

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