- On May 27, 2016
People often ask me whether it’s okay to start a sentence with the word and. And the answer is: Yes, it is.
Lest you beg to differ (I am sometimes met with raised eyebrows when I tell people this) here is what three usage experts have to say on the subject:
• It is rank superstition that this coordinating conjunction cannot properly begin a sentence. (Bryan A. Garner) And is a coordinating conjunction.
• It’s been common practice to begin sentences with conjunctions since at least as far back as the tenth century. (Patricia T. O’Conner) But is another coordinating conjunction.
• Starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is an informal style; it makes your writing sound conversational. (Mignon Fogarty)
That last comment may explain why you see more ands and buts at the start of sentences in speeches and editorials, as in this example from New York Times columnist Gail Collins: It’s easy to see why his wife’s campaign is giving him a major role. His political skills are legendary. And he’s the spouse, for heaven’s sake. And here are a few lines from a speech I helped write for the CEO of a pharmaceutical company: We faced a lot of skeptics and it was uncomfortable. But our science was world-class. And we were determined.
What’s not okay is putting a comma after and or but when they start a sentence. The only time you would do that is when you’re following up with a parenthetical element. Have a look:
Correct: And I love summer in New York. (The comma in And, I love summer in New York is needless.)
Correct: And, despite the frequent heat waves, I love summer in New York.
I think people get confused about the comma thing on account of the word however. When you start a sentence with however, you follow it with a comma, as in this example, also courtesy of Gail Collins: And Donald Trump has a history of boorish public behavior that could even overshadow the marital baggage Hillary has to tote. However, she’d be in a much stronger position if she was toting on her own.