Conjunctions: Starting sentences with

February 9, 2006: Issue 126

Somewhere in your past, an English teacher probably told you never to start a sentence with a conjunction. But it’s OK. (See?) You can start sentences with conjunctions, and we won’t put any marks in your permanent record. Our teachers were no doubt repeating what they were told in school, but this has never been a grammatical rule.

Just remember that you don’t need to set off the conjunction with a comma:

incorrect: But, the scope of the project quickly grew.
correct: But the scope of the project quickly grew.

incorrect: Or, sort through your own attic or basement for outdated art.
correct: Or sort through your own attic or basement for outdated art.

incorrect: And, that was a compromise the homeowners could handle.
correct: And that was a compromise the homeowners could handle.

Use a comma in that position only when it sets off a word, phrase, or clause within the sentence:

correct: But, as the old cabinets came down, the scope of the project quickly grew.
correct: Or, in a pinch, sort through your own attic or basement for outdated art.
correct: And, happily, that was a compromise the homeowners could handle.

One caveat: Go easy on starting sentences this way. The more often you use this construction, the less effective it becomes.

MICROSOFT WORD TIP: Tired of arguing with Microsoft Word about whether you need that comma? If you’d rather not deal with Word’s suggestions, turn off the grammar checker: Under the Word pull-down menu, select Preferences. Click on Spelling and Grammar, then make sure the “Check grammar as you type” and “Check grammar with spelling” boxes are unchecked. Now the only pesky grammar suggestions you’ll get will be from copy editors.

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