Starting a Sentence with "And" or "But"

by Craig Shrives
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Can I Start a Sentence "And" or "But"?

Despite what you may have been told at school, you can start a sentence with "and" or "but." ("And" and "but" are known as coordinating conjunction. "Or" is another common one.)

It is worth noting, however, that starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction still looks nonconformist to many people, so you are advised to reserve this practice for impact.
starting a sentence with 'and' or 'but'

Starting a Sentence with a Conjunction (e.g., "And," "But")

In the past, schools were rigid in their ruling that sentences could not start with coordinating conjunctions, such as "and" or "but." However, this ruling is now considered outdated, meaning it is perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.

Examples of Starting Sentences with Conjunctions

Here are some examples of starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions:
  • And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house. correct tick (President John F Kennedy)
  • I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But, this wasn't it. correct tick (Comedian Groucho Marx)
  • It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But, it is better to be good than to be ugly. (Playwright Oscar Wilde)
The two most common conjunctions used in this way are "and" (meaning "in addition") and "but" (meaning "however").

Use "And" and "But" for Impact

All modern style guides support using words like "and," "but," and "or" at the start of sentences. However, for most people, a sentence that starts with such a conjunction still looks a little nonconformist. This is because coordinating conjunctions are typically used to join like terms. For example:
  • Mark and Dawn
  • (Here, "and" joins two nouns.)
  • Rich but sad
  • (Here, "but" joins two adjectives.)
  • Quickly or slowly
  • (Here, "or" joins two adverbs.)
When a coordinating conjunction starts a sentence, it is not being used to join like terms but as a link between two sentences (i.e., like a conjunctive adverb). In effect, they are being used as follows:
  • And = In addition
  • But = However
  • Or = Put another way
So, the real question is not whether you can use a coordinating conjunction to start a sentence but whether "and," "but," and "or" are conjunctive adverbs as well as coordinating conjunctions. And it seems they are. Read more about coordinating conjunctions.

Comma after "And" or "But"

As we've covered, when a coordinating conjunction starts a sentence, it is being used like a conjunctive adverb such as "however," "consequently," and "therefore." This raises another question. Do we need a comma after "and" or "but" (like with "however," "consequently," etc.)?

Here's the guidance: If you want a pause, use a comma. If you don't, don't. (In other words, you are safe to use your discretion to get the desired flow of text.)
  • It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But, it is better to be good than to be ugly. (Playwright Oscar Wilde)
  • (The comma after "but" provides a pause. This comma is not essential. The most common style is not to use a comma with a coordinating conjunction acting like a conjunctive adverb. Bear in mind though that with a genuine conjunctive adverb, you should use a comma.)
Read more about conjunctive adverbs.

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