I’ve lost count of the amount of times clients have helpfully corrected my copy (no doubt with an I’ve-caught-the-copywriter-out gleam in their eye) because I’ve started a sentence with ‘And’.
Funnily enough, they’re usually happy to let me begin sentences with other conjunctions. ‘But’ rarely causes a stir. Very few people’s grammatical sensibilities are offended by ‘Nor’ or even ‘Or’. And ‘So’ doesn’t even get a second look. But, for some reason, ‘And’ brings out the pedant in people.
I then dutifully point out that:
- The ‘rule’ about conjunctions at the start of sentences isn’t a rule at all. It’s a dubious convention created by some Victorian-era teachers who had nothing better to do with their time.
- The ‘rule’ runs counter to common sense and is, if anything, about style not grammar. Think about it: if good grammar is about ensuring clarity, why would anyone have a problem with a harmless conjunction at the beginning of a sentence? It’s as daft as the ‘rule’ that says you can’t end a sentence with a preposition.
- Even if the ‘rule’ was a bona fide rule, it would be a rule worth breaking. If you can make something easier to read or communicate your point more engagingly or effectively by kicking off a sentence with ‘And’, why wouldn’t you?
- We all use conjunctions at the start of sentences in our everyday conversation. People don’t point and laugh and tell us about it. It’s natural. It’s conversational.
- Starting sentences with conjunctions can help you make your argument. You can use conjunctions to punctuate what might otherwise become a long or repetitive passage, or to highlight a particularly important point. They’re useful, as well as conversational.
But sometimes even that isn’t enough.
It isn’t enough to say you’ll find sentences that begin with conjunctions in the newspaper you’re reading today. It isn’t enough that every professional writer I’ve worked with has used conjunctions at the start of sentences. Every. Single. Writer.
That’s when I pull out the big guns
“And now for something completely different.”
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe.
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.
As You Like It, William Shakespeare
And for ther is so gret diversite
In Englissh and in writyng of oure tonge,
So prey I God that non myswrite the,
Ne the mysmetre for defaute of tonge;
And red wherso thow be, or elles songe,
That thow be understonde, God I biseche!
Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde
He rolled in his bed, twisting the sheets, grappling with a problem years too big for him, awake in the night like a single sentinel on picket. And sometime after midnight, he slept, too, and then only the wind was awake, prying at the hotel and hooting in its gables under the bright gimlet gaze of the stars.
Stephen King, The Shining
Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day.
Charles Dickens, Bleak House
How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates! How could she have exposed herself to such ill opinion in any one she valued! And how suffer him to leave her without saying one word of gratitude, of concurrence, of common kindness!
Jane Austen, Emma
And yet I cannot continue in this condition! I have to remind myself to breathe — almost to remind my heart to beat!
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read. And it's only news until he's read it. After that it's dead.
Evelyn Waugh, Scoop
There were the eternal problems: suffering; death; the poor. There was always a woman dying of cancer even here. And yet she had said to all these children, You shall go through with it.
Virginia Woolf, The Lighthouse
Not greatly gifted, not deeply beautiful, Madonna tells America that fame comes from wanting it badly enough. And everyone is terribly good at badly wanting things.
Martin Amis, Madonna
“Gone mad is what they say, and sometimes Run mad, as if mad is a different direction, like west; as if mad is a different house you could step into, or a separate country entirely. But when you go mad you don't go any other place, you stay where you are. And somebody else comes in.”
Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace
All we have to believe with is our senses, the tools we use to perceive the world: our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted. And even if we do not believe, then still we cannot travel in any other way than the road our senses show us; and we must walk that road to the end.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods
And that usually settles the matter.
Paul Leonard is an award-winning copywriter and creative director. He has plied his creative craft in the UK and Australia for more years than he cares to mention, working with clients of all shapes and sizes across an equally diverse range of industries. When he’s not building brands and crafting copy, concepts and campaigns, he enjoys running, drinking iced coffee and writing profiles about himself in the third person.