And? Or? But? Why it’s okay to start a sentence with a conjunction

Joe Moon examines why it is usually okay to begin sentences with conjunctions like "And".

It’s something we all have in common, yet it may hinder us rather than help us out. We were all taught at school-age not to start a sentence with the likes of ‘or’, ‘and’ or ‘but’. The sentence beginning with a conjunction is the sworn enemy of the schoolteacher. On a par with disruptive gadgets and loudmouth students in terms of annoyance, or so we were told.

Look at any piece of professional writing and you’ll be shown otherwise. Gleefully ignored by authors and copywriters alike, the humble conjunction has just as much right to take pride of place at the beginning of a sentence as other word types. And besides, when did we ever listen to our teachers anyway?

The proof in the pudding

Here’s one example from William Shakespeare’s legendary Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:

“And then it started like a guilty thing.”

You can’t argue with The Bard.

In fact, the quickest of Google searches produces hundreds of examples from famous works. This begs the question, why were we taught this way in the first place? Perhaps it’s because the context of writing in schools is academic most of the time. Alternatively, In The Story of English in 100 Words David Crystal points out:

“During the 19th century, some schoolteachers took against the practice of beginning a sentence with a word like “but” or “and”, presumably because they noticed the way young children overused them in their writing.”

Admittedly we have moved on from Victorian teaching methods. So this practice can be confined to history alongside the cane and dunces hat.

The benefits of starting sentences with a conjunction

Conjunctions often overlap with transition words. These not only show the reader the relationship between phrases, sentences and paragraphs, they also prepare them for what’s coming and retain interest. Think of it like turning your entire text into a narrative instead of several disconnected short stories. Us copywriters have to work hard to keep readers glued to the screen. And this is one way which helps achieve that.

It will often be the case that we are writing with SEO in mind to some degree. And anyone familiar with writing for WordPress and Yoast will know that it encourages transition words as part of its SEO/readability traffic lights.

The following are all words which Yoast recommends to improve readability. Keep in mind that this is just a small sample of words which can be used:

  • Additionally
  • Evidently
  • Obviously
  • However
  • Accordingly
  • Therefore
  • Subsequently

These are often conjunctions and they are recommended for linking each sentence together. Driving the reader to continue with the passage in this age when so much is vying for our attention.

How we use conjunctions at On Point

At On Point for example, we will break up long sentences with full stops. And then restart with conjunctions to add energy into our writing. We are linking one sentence to the next as directly as possible, to keep people reading. You’d find the writing would become far more rigid if we abandoned this approach and took on the academical style. There is a balance to be struck though, so it is important not to do this just for the sake of it.

Maintaining cohesiveness in your written content can be tricky, not everyone has the ability to craft paragraphs that flow, and that’s fine. On Point can offer you a range of services from blog writing, to email newsletters, adding that extra sheen to your copy before you distribute or publish it.

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Huw Bendon

Huw founded On Point Copywriting and leads the team, allocating the resources you need to achieve your goals. He has been copywriting since 2003 on both the client and agency side. Huw gets involved with all aspects of our service delivery with a particular focus on the planning and quality assurance stages.