Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Though and although

Temperance asks:

In graduate school, a particular professor excoriated (a friend) for
starting sentences with “Though.” Though, if “although” and “though” are
synonymous – as several web sources seem to suggest – why is it okay to start a
sentence with one and not the other? Or was Professor Particular simply acting
as a Grammar Snob?

My answer:

There's nothing grammatically wrong with starting a sentence with "though" or "although." But this practice can set up a very bad sentence. Long introductory clauses and phrases can suck the life out of a sentence like nobody's business. I suspect that's what the professor was talking about.

There are two ways such introductory matter can hurt a sentence: 1. by demoting the main clause/point of the sentence to a much lower position or, worse, 2. by cramming important information in as mere introductory matter.

"Though he had killed everyone in the house with a rusty ladle and served their organ meat to the dogs, he wasn't tired."

What's the main clause in this sentence? It's "he wasn't" (tired). All the interesting stuff is crammed in before a comma in a portion that reads like it's squeezed into one deep breath. (Read the sentence aloud or hear it in your mind and notice implied exhalation at the comma. Notice the hurried tone before you get to the comma. )

This is why "though" and "although" can be a bad way to start a sentence. They can also be a great way to start a sentence if the writer knows what she's doing. My guess is that your friend's professor was responding to a problem common in his recent experience and his caveat was either overstated or taken as gospel when it wasn't meant as such.

Does that help?

I should add:

"Though" and "although" are subordinating conjunctions. They subordinate information. That's a good thing, until someone uses them to subordinate info that should be getting top billing in its sentence.

6 comments:

Temperance said...

Thank you! That helps tremendously.
- temperance

June Casagrande said...

Glad I could help!

ken said...

DearTemperance:

I believe the main point in the example sentence IS the fact that the criminal wasn't tired after all that violence. Hence, the sentence is correctly begun with "though." I do believe, however, that it would have been preferable to write "even though" in lieu of "though" or "although," as this extra weight in the conjunction indicates that something momentous is to be revealed in the main clause to come; i.e., the fact that this character did all this without tiring.

lia said...

hi, there is this tricky item I came across with:" _____ the heroine so many times, the actress was eager to try her hand at playing a villainess"
which option is correct, though?
a. Having portrayed
b. Though she had portrayed
my name is lia mika

June Casagrande said...

Mika:

Both are correct, grammatical, and logical. But they have different connotations. "Having portrayed the heronie so many times, the actress was eager too play a villainess" makes it sound like all her previous experience would naturally make her want to do something different.

But "though" suggests the opposite: "Though she had portrayed the heroine so many times, the actress was eager to play a villainess" suggests it's surprising that she would want to do anything besides play a heroine. It sort of suggests "in spite of the fact that."

I think the first one makes more sense. But I've noticed that professional writers tend to avoid the construction "having blanked" as a modifier. It seems the more popular choice among pros is stuff like: "The actress had portrayed the heronie so many times. She was eager to try her hand at playing a villainess."

Lupius said...

The question was "why did the prof prefer 'although' over 'though' at the beginning of the sentence, and you answered "they're both bad" which completely ignored the question. I'm disappointed that your blog post was top hit on my google search.

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