JS Tip 43: From the Writing Workshops: Starting a Sentence with “And” or “But”

The question came from the workshop’s back row: “I always thought you couldn’t start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but.’ Can you do that?”

“Yes, you can.”

We checked that day’s copy of The Wall Street Journal (the best-written newspaper in the country). In one article, we found five examples of sentences beginning with “and” or “but.” Professional writing. Respected writing. We circled the examples with black marker.  

Other support came from another direction: Finding Forrester, the 2000 film of the Pulitzer-prize-winning mentor and the young protégé:

Forrester (Sean Connery): Paragraph three starts with a conjunction, “and.” You should never start a sentence with a conjunction.

Jamal (Rob Brown): Sure you can.

Forrester: No, it's a firm rule.

Jamal: No, it was a firm rule. Sometimes using a conjunction at the start of a sentence makes it stand out. And that may be what the writer's trying to do.

Forrester: And what is the risk?

Jamal: Well the risk is doing it too much. It's a distraction. And it could give your piece a run-on feeling. But for the most part, the rule on using “and” or “but” at the start of a sentence is pretty shaky. Even though it's still taught by too many professors. Some of the best writers have ignored that rule for years, including you. (Finding Forrester, Columbia Pictures, 2000).

We—and every other source we know—agree with Jamal. You can start a sentence with “and” or “but.”

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