Throughout my copywriting career I have written sentences that start with ‘and’ or ‘but’.
Usually, this is met with a cry from my client, ‘No! You can’t do that, my English teacher said so.”
It’s true, students all over the country were brainwashed by their English teachers telling them that under no circumstances should they begin a sentence with a conjunction.
Poppycock. As RW Burchfield wrote in New Fowler’s Modern English Usage:
“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.”
In fact, sentences starting with ‘and’ litter the Bible.
Check out any novel, journal, speech or piece of formal writing and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a sentence of two that start with a conjunction.
It can help create the tone of an afterthought. It can offer a smooth transition between sentences. And it can help move on a narrative or argument.
Formal or informal?
Another way of looking at it is whether you want your writing to come across as formal or informal.
For me, it’s acceptable in any form of writing – whether it’s a white paper or an informal opinion piece. But there are those who would argue that it’s only all right when informality is your aim.
If you want to be more formal, rather than ‘but’ you could use ‘however’ or ‘nevertheless,’ and instead of ‘and’ use ‘in addition’ or ‘furthermore.’
The only rule about this is to respect the view of your client. If they are adamant that conjunctions shouldn’t be used to start a sentence, it’s best to avoid them.