Oh yes it is. And before you go looking for evidence to suggest otherwise – there isn’t any. Using these words to start sentences is a natural and important part of good written communication.
So we often wonder why, occasionally, people question it.
Most people writing regularly, or for a living, will use ‘And’, ‘But’ and ‘Because’ at the beginning of their sentences. Many people who don’t have much cause to write often, also will. But a small, bloody-minded and misguided bunch of non-writers still insist ‘you’re not allowed to.’ Or, ironically, they often say, “But you’re not allowed to. I was always taught you can’t start a sentence with ‘and’. And I’ve followed that rule ever since.” Let’s face it, though, the irony would be entirely lost on them, and they’re probably not even listening.
They’re probably not reading much, either. Reading is possibly the best cure for this affliction – it shouldn’t take anyone long to read their way out of it, if the prevalence of ‘And’, ‘But’ and ‘Because’ as sentence-beginners in books, newspapers, magazines, web copy, adverts and blogs is anything to go by. And yes, we can count novels, non-fiction, the broadsheets, the online ‘good writing’ guides, and adverts in every format among these examples. Here’s an excerpt from a page picked at random from a well-known best seller:
“But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. So Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise on the sword, and died. So Saul died, and his three sons, and all his house died together. And when all the men of Israel…..”
Or how about, “And it came to pass…” Recognise the publication?
We’re not suggesting The King James Bible is an authority on writing. But it’s a pretty good example of the widespread and accepted the use of ‘And’ at the beginning of sentences. How would a pompous, deluded English teacher explain that?
If that’s not enough, there are also the well-respected authorities on good writing. The Chicago Manual of Style, for example, is one of the most widely used editorial style guides. It is used by academic and trade publishers, and for historical and reference publications, as well as by editors and authors who are required by publishers to follow it. Here’s what it says on starting sentences with ‘And’ or ‘But’:
“Charles Allen Lloyd’s 1938 words fairly sum up the situation as it stands even today: ‘Perhaps the most wide-spread of the many false beliefs about the use of our language is the groundless notion that it is incorrect to begin a sentence with ‘but’ or ‘and’… no textbook supports it, but apparently about half of our teachers of English go out of their way to handicap their pupils by inculcating it. One cannot help wondering whether those who teach such a monstrous doctrine ever read any English themselves.’”
Or, as Sir Ernest Arthur Gowers, the early 20th century British public servant, best known for his style guides for writing the English language, puts it:
“That it is a solecism to begin a sentence with ‘and’ is a faintly lingering superstition. The OED gives examples ranging from the 10th to the 19th centuries; the Bible is full of them.”
It’s also in Fowler’s English Usage, probably the best known and widely respected reference work on ‘correct’ English.
We can also refer to Lindsay Camp’s excellent book, Can I Change Your Mind? where he picks up from this point:
“What if you don’t believe Fowler? Well in that case, I’d suggest you refer to William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen… this year’s Man Booker Prize winner, or the editor of any of our national newspapers. Because throughout the history of written English, good writers – virtually without exception – have routinely and unapologetically started sentences with ‘and’.”
Luckily, and quite rightly, it doesn’t often come up in what we do, but once in a blue moon the fallacy rears its ugly head. At one meeting, discussing our work on the RBS annual report, the client told us not to start a sentence with ‘and’. Not his instruction, he made clear, just that he knew that once it went ‘upstairs’ it would come down with red pen all over it. We weren’t told whether this would be from (ex) Sir Fred, or from Sir Tom, but it was one of those two. Perhaps if they had spent more time learning how to run a bank than poking their nose into matters where they had even less of a clue, the world would be a different place?
It’s our job to create and provide persuasive writing at its best. In the process, we abide by the genuine rules – stopping short of outright pedantry – that help us get clients’ key messages across most effectively and achieve the best results. And if that means ignoring silly people and starting the odd sentence with ‘And’, ‘But’ or ‘Because’, we flipping well will. Because it makes perfect sense.