Thursday, June 3, 2010

And, Yes, You Can Start a Sentence With 'And'

One of the students in my online copy editing course was taught -- straight out -- that it's wrong to start a sentence with "and." Whenever she did, a high-school teacher would say, "That's not right, dear." Several other students were under the same impression.

Who ARE these teachers who spread this stuff and why don't/didn't they ever check their own facts?

The Chicago Manual of Style, Garner's Modern American Usage, Fowler's New English Usage, the American Heritage Dictionary, and the simple logic of grammar and idiom all say it's fine to start a sentence with "and" (or "but" or "so"). I don't know of any real authority that disagrees.

It's a shame how powerful misinformation can be.

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10 comments:

Mallory said...

It's complete misinformation. My old boss would insist that it was wrong and would always make me change it. That was frustrating because it didn't matter what source I showed her. It was all about her big ego and had nothing to do with what was actually correct.

June Casagrande said...

Oh, geez, that's REALLY bad that she held that view even though you showed her source to the contrary. Yikes! I'm so glad you don't have to deal with that anymore.

Joel said...

I was taught this by several teachers through elementary and high school. The fact that I routinely ignore it now has less to do with my perception that it's not a rule than with my growing sense that most of the rules (about everything in every domain) are arbitrary, parochial, often knowingly grounded in falsehood and geared primarily to establish order and prop up an otherwise untenable authority.

It's not that I no longer believe in absolutes anymore; I just don't believe the folks who claim to be their keepers.

Darn it, June, you're always luring me into reflections about broader philosophical issues, all under the guise of innocent-looking grammar.

June Casagrande said...

I never thought about it that way, but I guess grammar really is a mirror reflecting larger things and also a sort of gateway drug to deep thoughts. But, sure, I'll take the credit.

: )

Blackwell said...

Actually, now that I think about it, for all the crazy language issues I've encountered with my English learner students ("she was completely dramatized" anyone?), I don't think I've *ever* seen a sentence get started with "and." I think because style is soooo hard to teach and that starting a sentence with "and" is definitely a matter of style and I think is kind of hard to pull off successfully without a bit of confidence and/or panache, (yow! that's a lot of "ands") that teachers just say "don't." And that is an easy to follow rule that kinda makes sense, so they do it. I rarely get sentences starting with "because" for that same reason. I wish I did.

Oh, and I agree with Joel. I have offered relationship counseling after editing a friend's writing (too many commas, a weak and confusing piece of punctuation IMHO, were why he couldn't get a not-crazy girlfriend). Grammar is definitely bigger than mere words.

June Casagrande said...

Ah, yes. "Don't" quite different from "you can't."

Though I use "and" at the beginnings of sentences a lot, I almost always take them out of others' writing when I'm copy editing -- not because they're wrong, but because newspapers have so much emphasis economy of words. In straight news writing especially, any word that can be chopped out usually should -- and "and" tops that list! (I give a little more elbow room to the feature articles writers, though!)

Sharon said...

Hello, interesting comments there on the use of and.
Personally, I find it hard to concentrate on reading anything further, once I have reached that point. I find it complicates what is being expressed.
A friend wrote a story online and as I read it there were commas in what I perceived to be incorrect places {my friend is in the USA, I am in the UK}.
I guess I might qualify as a snob, but I was taught that to start a sentence with such a word did not make sense.
If it flows easily as I read, I enjoy it.

June Casagrande said...

I have the same problems with "Ands" at the beginnings of sentences because, as an editor, I always chop them out. That's not because they're wrong, but because in newspaper editing you're usually supposed to cut out any word that can be cut out without loss of meaning. An And at the beginning of a sentence is almost never crucial to the meaning. So I take the three characters' worth of saved ink instead!

Not that there's anything wrong with it ...

: )

Ratprincess said...

Based on the title of your post, it is also kosher to use a comma after "and" and before "yes"?


June Casagrande said...

"Yes" is often set off with commas:

Yes, I'll be there.

A comma *can* come after "and" in many cases. But it depends on the situation.

I spoke to Joe and, if you must know, he asked about you.

But unless there's something intervening between "and" and whatever it's connecting to the rest of the sentence, there's usually no call to put a comma there.

Does that answer your question?

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