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Starting a sentence with "but" or "so"

When speaking with students about the reasons not to use coordinating conjunctions (e.g., and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) to begin sentences, I often hear a plaintive response: “But I see other writers do it!”. The grammatical function of a coordinating conjuction is to connect words, phrases, and clauses. The problem with beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is that doing so often leads writers to produce a sentence fragment. Strictly speaking, it's acceptable to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction; however, I usually advise people to stay away from doing so in formal writing because the construction often adds an informal narrative tone that may not fit in with the expected tone of the document. My advice is that when you’re tempted to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, consider the following: a) remember that the word should join words, phrases, and clauses; b) make sure that you won’t create a sentence fragment by beginning the sentence with the coordinating conjunction; and c) ensure that the sentence maintains the tone that is appropriate for the document. If you need help with finding another way to start the sentence, consider a transitional device instead.

For more information on coordinating conjunctions and transitions, please see "Commas, semicolons, and colons".

Questions? Please contact the Writing Centre.

Theresa Bell
Writing centre coordinator 

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