The Grammarphobia Blog

The missing link?

Q: I was taught – lo, these many years ago – that it is never correct to begin a sentence with “and.” In recent years, I have noticed more and more sentences, spoken and written by those who I thought would know better, begin with “and.” Has this become acceptable usage or is it still incorrect to use “and” in this manner?

A: Contrary to popular opinion, it has never been incorrect to begin a sentence with a conjunction (a linking word like “and,” “but,” “or,” etc.). It’s perfectly acceptable to use conjunctions to join words, phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs.

I discussed this in a posting to the blog two years ago, but I think it’s time for an update. No one’s quite sure where the old prohibition came from, but it’s mythological.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage says few language authorities “have actually put the prohibition in print.”
In fact, it could find only one such reference – an 1868 comment by George Washington Moon, a literary gadfly who criticized the grammarians of his day: “It is not scholarly to begin a sentence with the conjunction and.”

Merriam-Webster’s cites speculation that the belief may have come from the efforts of teachers to correct children for using “and” excessively to string together clauses and sentences.

“As children grow older and master the more sophisticated technique of subordinating clauses, the prohibition of and becomes unnecessary,” M-W adds. “But apparently our teachers fail to tell us when we may forget about the prohibition. Consequently, many of us go through life thinking it wrong to begin a sentence with and.”

And that’s the story.

Buy Pat’s books at a local store or Amazon.com.