‘And’ Abuse: Are Your Conjunctions Out of Control?

Way back in my youth, I was taught that one should never start a sentence with “and” or “but.”  It was uncouth, uneducated and just plain wrong.

But now I do it all the time. And I see other writers doing it, too.

Why not? “And” and “but” are conjunctions, words that connect one thought to another. If you start a sentence with these words, it would seem you’re not connecting to anything. Right? But the rules seem to have changed since the 1960s. Most experts now seem to agree with Grammerly.com  and the Oxford Dictionaries blog, which basically say that it’s okay to start a sentence with a conjunction in informal or personal writing, not so good in formal writing. What’s formal writing? I see it as academic and legal writing and formal essays. Also, if your boss, editor or teacher says so.

Starting your sentence with “And” or “But” can add emphasis. But it can also just be sloppy writing. In editing my own work, I find myself constantly removing “ands,” both at the beginnings of sentences and in my many lists. Example: Lions and tigers and bears and octupuses, instead of lions, tigers, bears, and octupuses. I also use them a lot to create sentences that are ridiculously long. When I revise, I go back and delete as many of those “ands” as I can, making generous use of periods and commas instead. But sometimes I leave them in because this is how people speak. At least it’s how I speak. Sometimes “ands” and “buts” enhance the voice, rhythm and sense of the sentence. But it can be overdone. I suspect if I removed all the excess “ands” and “buts” in my current manuscript, it would be at least 10 pages shorter.

Don’t worry about any of this when you’re writing your first drafts. Just write; you’ll fix it later. But when you take a second look, consider whether you need those “ands” and “buts,” and would it be better to connect two sentences or divide your words into multiple sentences with periods and capital letters? For example, do I need that “But” in the first sentence of this paragraph? No. I can delete it. I could also put a period after the second “buts” and start a new sentence. But, for emphasis, I will leave it the way it is.

There are other words that do similar jobs, such as yet, however, or, and because. Same rules apply. Use them anywhere you want, but with caution.

I’d love to read your comments on this.

But now, go write.