Starting a Sentence with "And" or "But"

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 best known as coordinate conjunctions. "Or" is another common one.)

It is worth noting, however, that starting a sentence with "and," "but," or "or" 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 coordinate conjunctions, such as "and," "but," and "or." However, those teachers were missing a key point: when used at the start of a sentence, "and," "but," and "or" are not coordinate conjunctions, but conjunctive adverbs.

Examples Sentences

Here are some example sentences starting with "and," "but," and "or":
  • I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But, this wasn't it. correct tick (Comedian Groucho Marx)
  • (In this example, "but" is not a coordinate conjunction. It is a conjunctive adverb with the meaning "however.")
  • It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But, it is better to be good than to be ugly. (Playwright Oscar Wilde)
  • (Here too, "but" is a conjunctive adverb with the meaning "however.")
  • And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house. correct tick (President John F Kennedy)
  • (Here, "and" is a conjunctive adverb with the meaning "in addition.")
  • You should leave in the morning. Or, you should apologize right now. correct tick
  • (Here, "or" is a conjunctive adverb with the meaning similar to "alternatively.")

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 "and," "but," or "or" still looks a little nonconformist. This is because they view them as coordinate conjunctions, which 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 coordinate 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 / Additionally
  • But = However
  • Or = Put another way / alternatively
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.

Comma after "And" or "But"

As we've covered, when a coordinate 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 coordinate conjunction acting like a conjunctive adverb. Bear in mind though that with a genuine conjunctive adverb, you should use a comma.)
Here is a video summarizing this lesson starting a sentence with "and," "but," or "or": video lesson

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.