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, let’s all write on!
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