The Grammarphobia Blog

Lots of ifs, ands, & buts

Q: Your posting about beginning a sentence with a conjunction reminds me of a speech by Adlai Stevenson that started nearly each sentence with one. I’ve tried for years to track down that speech. I thought it was given by Stevenson in conceding defeat, but a scholar at the Princeton University Library said I was mistaken. Can you help?

A: We suspect that you’re thinking of the speech Stevenson made when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in July 1952.

He started many sentences (though far from all of them) with conjunctions. By our count he started six with “and,” five with “but,” two with “nor,” two with “if,” and one with “so.”

Here’s the last sentence: “And finally, my friends, in this staggering task you have assigned me, I shall always try ‘to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.’ ” (The quotation is from the Book of Micah.)

Stevenson was defeated in the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections by Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Is it legit to begin a sentence with a conjunction? Yes. As we say in our blog item, it is not, and never has been, grammatically wrong to do so. This isn’t a subjective judgment on our part. It’s a fact.

We cite as authorities the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Fowler’s Modern English Usage (revised 3rd ed.), and Garner’s Modern American Usage (3rd ed.)

And that’s that!

Check out our books about the English language