But it’s OK to start a sentence with a conjunction

A link to this article by Steven Pinker landed in my email inbox last week. The sender of the email bemoaned Pinker’s view that some grammar rules can be bent or even broken. Where are the guardians of the language?

Skimming through Pinker’s list, I saw the usual grammar flashpoints: split infinitives, that/which, who/whom and prepositions at the end of sentences. But another caught my eye: starting a sentence with a conjunction.

That topic had come up recently at an editing bootcamp in Montreal sponsored by the American Copy Editors Society. A participant at the workshop asked whether it is acceptable to start a sentence with “and” or “but.”

One of my co-presenters, Fred Vultee of Wayne State University, said yes, it is. He cited one of the most-read pieces of writing in world history: the Book of Genesis.

Indeed, the second sentence of the Bible has a sentence that starts with a conjunction: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

And no one seems to have a problem with that.


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