And then

“I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.”
Oscar Wilde

Is it kosher to begin a sentence with a conjunction? There was a time when the answer was absolutely not! A sentence starting with a conjunction was viewed as incomplete — as a fragment.

However, even once-sacred grammatical rules change, and today, creativity trumps convention. In short, most modern fiction writers now agree that using a conjunction to open a sentence is perfectly acceptable. In fact, many accomplished writers violated this long-standing “rule” even in its heyday. And also used sentence fragments!

Back to coordinating conjunctions. Among the most common are “for,” “and,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” “so,” and “nor.” Writers typically use these little critters to increase the dramatic impact of a sentence or to emphasize a thought:

I really wanted to see Sarah. But who would stay with Susie?

Do you use a comma after a coordinating conjunction used to open a sentence? Generally speaking, the answer is no — not unless an interrupter phrase (Ex.: And, in fact,) immediately follows it. One exception: the word “So,” is followed by a comma when it opens a sentence because it’s often used to sum up a previous thought:

So, despite all her excuses, she completed the job.

The bottom line: Based on current convention, as a creative writer, you will not be breaking any unshakable rule if you begin a sentence with “and,” “but,” or “yet.” As with all literary constructions, however, it’s probably wisest to use this approach gingerly — otherwise, it will lose its impact.

And one last note: Exceptions, always the exceptions! In certain instances: a formal communication, business writing, or an academic paper, it’s best to adhere to the classic Elements of Style advice of Strunk and White and avoid starting sentences with conjunctions or using sentence fragments.

So, armed with these helpful tips, write on!

About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.
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3 Responses to And then

  1. Mike Tully says:

    Excellent post, Karin! It makes me feel better about using conjunctions this way. To me, starting sentences with them helps move the story along. Curious as to why it was once so prohibited. For the record, you always deliver top-level stuff. Respectfully, here’s a quibble on the last sentence. I don’t like using “armed” in this way. I prefer “equipped” or “using.” Write on!

    • Hi Coach Tully,

      Thanks so much for your note — so glad you’re enjoying my posts! And you’re so right — “equipped” is a better choice than armed!

      I received an invitation from your friend Larry to Mary’s book party in Brooklyn tomorrow — so kind of you to pass on my contact info! I’m thinking of taking a Britomar break and hopping into Brooklyn — and wondered if you are going.

      Have a great day, Karin

      Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2015 14:20:28 +0000 To: kmja_w@hotmail.com

  2. Mike Tully says:

    Two more thoughts. One, your headline is devilishly clever. Two, the Oscar Wilde quote reminds me of something we used to say on the copy desk: “The item on which you’re focusing is in inverse proportion to the one you’re missing.” For example, when you’re weighing the use of a comma, the headline is wrong.

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