Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Can I Start a Sentence With a Coordinating Conjunction?
We had an interesting conversation in my high school creative writing class this week. One of the students started a sentence with and, and, of course, the more grammarly types thought that he should not.
Being the kind of teacher who does not like to let any potential lesson pass, I delved in. That is what I would like to "teach" here today--but first let's go back to those earlier lessons on compound sentences and comma use--and, of course, what a coordinating conjunction is to begin with.
You might remember a recent post (one of my PUNCTUATION PUZZLES, actually) in which I discussed how to create a compound sentence using a semicolon. (Remember, compound has to do with TWO, just like a compound fracture is a break in two places. Thus, a compound sentence is two sentences joined together as one.)
It can be found here (http://languagelady365.blogspot.com/2013/02/punctuation-puzzle-compound-with.html ). In a nutshell, it tells how a compound sentence may be created by combining two complete sentences (CS) into one sentence with a semicolon between the two.
Of course, the two sentences you are combining must be linked to each other in subject matter in order to do this; each half the compound should be somewhat similar in weightiness as well. This compound-creating helps a writer to link common thoughts and show their link without any additional words.
Then I also had another post about creating a compound sentence with a comma-coordinating conjunction (http://languagelady365.blogspot.com/2013/01/comma-clues-1-creating-compound.html ). In this post, I described how you can combine two sentences into one with the same guidelines for the semicolon compound sentence--but with the added benefit of meaning via the coordinating conjuction.
I also taught this little trick: FANBOYS. This is a quick method to learn the seven true coordinating conjunctions:
Again, the beauty of the compound sentence with the coordinating conjunction (as opposed to the semicolon, which is good for showing off!) is that each of those seven little words has the potential to bring a meaning, a relationship, a link, a causality, and more.
So, what if you (or your student) wants to START a sentence with one of those little meaningful, relational, linking, causal words?
Learn how to do it well! Or teach your student how to do it well!
According to R.W. Burchfield in The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, it is completely legal: "There is a persistent belief that it is improper to begin a sentence with And, but this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times onwards. An initial And is a useful aid to writers as the narrative continues"
Of course, if you are a lover of great literature as some of my kids are, you can find time after time when a noted author began narrative, as well as poetry, with a coordinating conjunction. And, obviously, most of the time he or she did it well!
When and how would one begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction?
1. When the material following the coordinating conjunction is LINKED to the previous sentence (much like creating the compound sentence)
2. When the meaning of the coordinating conjunction is valuable to the sentence:
a. And--linking, additionally, and even sometimes because of: She was going to be late. AND she didn't care.
b. Or--linking, contrasting, giving another option: You can have the cake. OR you can have the ice cream.
c. But--constrasting, showing causality or exception: You may have cake or ice cream. BUT you may not have them both.
3. When the coordinating conjunctions and, but, or, & yet are used.
a. These are the four that work the best at the beginning of a sentence.
b. For is usually a preposition when it is at the beginning of a sentence. (More on that later.)
c. Sometimes so will work, but it might be a little stilted.
d. Nor doesn't work at all.
4. When you want a stop after the first sentence--a beat, if you will. Then you want the second sentence to have more power than the first--and the contrast or causality to be greater.
I'm a teacher through and through. I go to sleep thinking about teaching and writing--and I get up thinking about teaching and writing. So.....I woke up this morning with a mnemonic to use with my students for this sentence structure. (I am mnemonic, rhyme, and jingle crazy in my textbooks!)
"When you start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction,
Be sure it's strong--be sure it has a function!"
I was thrilled that my creative writing students are thinking so deeply about sentences. Creative writing, story writing, poetry, narratives--all of these are writing areas in which thinking deeply about sentence structure really pays off. And beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is a way to really add punch and emphasis to a creative writing piece. Smile...