Recently, my husband asked me what the rules are about starting a sentence with a conjunction. Is it frowned upon? Are some conjunctions more acceptable than others? Will you be heckled out of the room if you lead with a “but”?
It’s a great question. I was taught that you should never begin a sentence with “and” – unless you enjoyed being ridiculed by the Grade 7 English teacher in front of the whole class. So it is with great pleasure that I tell you today there is not, and never has been, any such rule regarding the use of conjunctions.
Okay, so let’s look at the big picture of conjunctions for a minute.
Conjunctions are words that we use to connect sentences, clauses and words within clauses. Here’s an example:
The governess did not know which child had pushed her into the pond, Esther or Edmund.
Of course, it’s never that easy with English grammar. Conjunctions can be simple, compound or phrasal. Simple conjunctions are single words, usually derived from prepositions (and, but, if, so, or, etc.). Compound conjunctions are two words combined to make a single word (because, although, however, nevertheless, etc.). Phrasal conjunctions use two or more separate words (as such, so that, provided that, as though, etc.).
In addition, conjunctions are divided into three categories — subordinating, coordinating and correlative.
Subordinating conjunctions join unequal clauses; they are used to introduce a clause that is dependent on the independent clause. Let me give you an example:
Esther is naughty because of the accident.
In contrast, coordinating conjunctions connect words (or groups of words) that are grammatically equal, such as two nouns, two verbs or two clauses. But wait – there’s more! Coordinating conjunctions are divided into the following four groups: copulative, adversative, disjunctive and final.
Copulative conjunctions, also known as additive coordinating conjunctions (and, also, moreover, etc.), indicate the addition of facts related to the first element. You might notice I used one in my previous sentence. Here is another example:
Hector received three blows to the head and he was stabbed with an ice pick.
Adversative conjunctions, also known as contrasting coordinating conjunctions (but, yet, nevertheless, etc.), indicate contrasts or comparisons. Here is an example:
Turning in Delilah was the right decision; nevertheless Neville is filled with sorrow.
Disjunctive conjunctions, also known as separative coordinating conjunctions (either, or, but, nor, neither, otherwise, etc.), indicate separation or alternatives. Only one statement can be true, and both can be false. For example:
The ghost of either Prudence or Hector haunted the old manor house.
Final conjunctions, also known as illative coordinating conjunctions (as a result, hence, so, therefore, etc.), indicate inferences or consequences. Here is an example:
Clarabelle had angered the spirits; as a result she had to flee.
The last type of conjunction is correlative. These are pairs of conjunctions, used to connect successive clauses that need each other to make a complete thought (if-then, neither-nor, where-there, etc.). Each word in the pair must immediately precede the same part of speech in the sentence. Here are some examples:
If Heathcliff threw himself off the cliff, then Catherine would surely follow. (Each correlative conjunction precedes a noun.)
Perfidia not only mixed arsenic in Percival’s drink, but also sprinkled some in his stew. (Each correlative conjunction precedes a verb.)
Okay. So that is the briefest lecture on conjunctions I could manage. Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back if you made it this far. You now know more about conjunctions than most of the people in your life.
Back to the original question, which was about using conjunctions to begin sentences. Absolutely, you can start a sentence with a conjunction. Just make sure it makes sense. If you lead with a “but” it should introduce an idea that contrasts the one that preceded it. I’ll leave you with this final example:
Basil often went for long walks on the moors. He knew how dangerous they were. But he never expected to run into a pack of feral cats.