Starting a Sentence with a Conjunction Like And and But

The Quick Answer
Can you start a sentence with a conjunction (e.g., and, but)?

Despite what you may have been told at school, you can start a sentence with a conjunction (e.g., And, But, Or).

Nevertheless, this practice looks odd to many so you're advised not to do it too often. (NB: It looks odd because people do not expect coordinate conjunctions to be used as conjunctive adverbs. The real question is can And, But, and Or be used as conjunctive adverbs. The anwer to that is yes, but this practice doesn't sit well with many people.)

Starting a Sentence with a Conjunction

In the past, schools were rigid in their ruling that sentences could not start with conjunctions, such as And or But. This practice is considered acceptable nowadays. For example:
  • And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house. (John F Kennedy)
  • I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But, this wasn't it. (Groucho Marx)
The two most common conjunctions used in this way are And (meaning in addition) and But (meaning however).

Best Advice: Use This Style for Impact

I have been unable to find a modern style guide that doesn't advocate using a conjunction (e.g., and, but, or) at the start of a sentence. However, for most people, a sentence that starts with a conjunction doesn't look natural. Co-ordinate conjunctions (as they're called) like and, but, and or are 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 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 coordinate conjunction to start a sentence but whether and, but, and or are conjunctive adverbs as well as coordinate conjunctions. And it seems they are.

See Also

What are co-ordinate conjunctions? What are conjunctive adverbs? What are conjunctions? Conjunctions and commas Conjunctions and semicolons Commas before conjunctions (and, or, but)